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Published on May 17th, 2017 | by Deb Wolf

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ACEs – Why We All Need To Pay Attention to Trauma

Current prEvents      May 23, 2017      Times Argus
By Ginny Burley, Prevention Specialist with Central Vermont New Directions Coalition.

Based on information from the Building Flourishing Communities Updates  from Kathleen Hentcy at the Vermont Department of Mental Health

What if we could identify one thing that is responsible for much of the physical and social ills of our country?

The research on ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, shows that we may have done just that. The theory of ACEs posits that when children are exposed to a number of traumatic experiences, such as emotional or physical abuse or neglect; sexual abuse; having a family member who is incarcerated; living with a substance abuser or mentally ill family member; seeing the mother battered; divorced parents; or other traumatic events, they suffer toxic levels of stress that impact their lives to an unimaginable degree. ACEs alone may be responsible for an astonishing number of chronic diseases, school failure, mental illness, risky youth behavior, drug and alcohol use, financial stress, crime, violence, suicide, and more. Extremely stressful experiences in childhood can alter brain development and have lifelong effects on health and behavior. The more events, the higher the ACEs score, and the higher the risk.

For those working with children and families, ACEs is a familiar subject. For others, there is much still to be learned about trauma. Here’s an opportunity for you to learn more. The film “Resilience: the Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope” (http://kpjrfilms.co/resilience/) is a one-hour documentary that describes the discovery of ACEs by scientists in the medical community and the ongoing effort to prevent the damage and treat the results. On Wednesday, May 24, the Green Mountain United Way and the Spiral Committee are hosting a free screening of the film at Montpelier High School at 6:00. A panel discussion will follow. This is an opportunity for you to bring your questions and find out more from local experts. See below for more information about the event.

The original ACEs study looked at over 17,000 people. The researchers asked about their exposure to adverse events. Then they asked about their physical and mental health. Most of them reported at least one type of early adverse event. As the number and type of adversity increased, so did the likelihood of adult health risk behaviors. In Vermont, 23% of adults report having at least one ACE. According to the 2010 Behavioral Risk Surveillance Survey, 13% of Vermont adults have experienced four or more. One in eight Vermont children has experienced three or more ACEs, the most common being divorced or separated parents, food and housing insecurity, and having lived with someone with a substance use disorder or mental health condition. Children with three or more ACEs have higher odds of failing to engage and flourish in school. Research suggests that between half and two-thirds of all school-aged children experience trauma as they are exposed to one or more adverse childhood experiences. Why do some children develop resilience, or the ability to overcome significant adversity, while others do not? How can we foster the development of resilience in children?

While many services exist, they are not universally available, trauma informed, or coordinated. To prevent early childhood adversity across the entire population, we need a public health approach to changing the causal factors that support high levels of trauma and lead to people needing assistance. In Vermont, models such as the Self-Healing Communities Model and Building Flourishing Communities are implementing prevention programs targeting ACEs. The Department of Mental Health is the lead on Building Flourishing Communities. These programs rely on a family-based, multi-generational approach to treatment and prevention. If we treat the child without engaging the family, the child returns to an unchanged family unit, where the adversity is likely to recur. Schools, nurses, physicians, and human services personnel are all involved in this effort. This year, a law (H 508) was passed by the legislature that promotes child and family resilience and outlines principles for Vermont’s trauma-informed system of care. The law creates an adverse childhood events working group. Vermont’s Agency of Human Services is gearing up to do the work required in this bill.

The discovery of the role of ACEs in our communities, and the promise of promoting resilience through trauma-informed practices, is a source of hope for all of us. This focus may be the way to finally chip away at problems that have been with us for generations.

RESILIENCE Film Showing and Panel Discussion – Wednesday May 24th from 6:00-8:00 pm at Montpelier High School – free admission. For more information and a film trailer, go to http://www.gmunitedway.org/event/resilience/


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