New voices bring promise to challenge of childhood adversity

Serena Clayton

Serena Clayton

By Serena Clayton at

At the Center for Youth Wellness policy convening on childhood adversity in San Diego last Thursday, I kept asking myself if we were having a new conversation or an old conversation, but with different people at the table.

The fact that children who experience adverse events (e.g., domestic violence, or a mentally ill or incarcerated parent) have worse health outcomes hardly seems like news. In public health, we know that environmental, economic and social factors lead to health disparities. In education, we know that poverty is connected to lower achievement, and there is a strong correlation between poverty and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

To address ACEs, new “trauma-informed practices” are moving the focus off of “fixing” individuals to understanding their experiences and building resiliency and safe, supportive environments. All of this sounds a lot like youth development, protective factors and strength-based approaches.

There is no doubt that we are seeing some of the same ideas come back in a new package. But something is different now, and it is the very fact that different people are now at the table—juvenile justice advocates, educators and health care providers. What this demonstrates is that the concept of childhood trauma has succeeded in uniting various sectors in a way that I have not seen before.

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Trigger Points — finally, a parenting book for moms and dads who survived child abuse

 AtriggerpointsTrigger Points is the first book written, edited, published by survivors of childhood abuse geared towards parents who are survivors.
It includes essays from more than 20 men and women survivor parents with children of all ages, as well as resources, journal prompts and ways to join a survivor parent community.
It’s the heart-brain child of Dawn White Daum and Joyelle Brandt who met in September of 2014 after Dawn wrote about raising a daughter as a survivor in Scary Mommy entitled Raising a Girl as a Survivor.
They had not met or been friends but found each other through words.
Words shared that made them feel less alone. Glorious words.
Dawn and Joyelle had each done, as I have done, as others are doing ALL THE TIME – sought out resources and researcg,
I’ve ached for information and support on topics such as:
  • parenting as a survivor
  • parent triggers
  • break-the-cycle parenting
  • support for parents who had abusive childhoods
And found NOTHING.
O.K., yes, maybe a chapter here and there or some mention or a study. Maybe a mention in a larger book.
But nothing to and for and by other parent survivors that is practical and hopeful.

How Childhood Trauma Can Make You A Sick Adult


The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study found that survivors of childhood trauma are up to 5,000 percent more likely to attempt suicide, have eating disorders, or become IV drug users. Dr. Vincent Felitti, the study’s co-founder, details this remarkable and powerful connection in a video produced by Big Think.

Report: Juvenile Justice System must substantively revamp treatment of girls

By Sarah Barr, JJIE.orgGenderInjustice_infographic_web_midquality

Juvenile justice reformers risk leaving girls behind if they fail to consider how traumatic experiences push girls into the system, says a new report.

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California high school health clinic asks students about their childhood trauma as a way to improve their health


Elsie Allen High School student Anabel (l), and Erin Moilanen, school health clinic nurse practitioner (r) __________________________________

When students show up for an appointment at the Elsie Allen Health Center, which is located on the Elsie Allen High School campus in Santa Rosa, CA, one of the first things they do is answer questions about the trauma they’ve experienced during their lives.

That’s because research has shown a direct link between adverse childhood experiences — ACEs – and the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) — which has been replicated by 29 states — also show that ACEs create mental and physical health risks that continue to crop up over a person’s lifetime if not adequately addressed.

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A mother’s rage over her daughter’s high school sexual assault


Woman embracing young girl, sculpture by Gustav Vigeland. Vigeland Museum, Oslo, Norway.

I recently viewed Lady Gaga’s new video, “Till It Happens to You”. I have stifled my rage for a number of years now, because it wasn’t my trauma and the healing process is about meeting someone where they are. But, I am a mother. It is my trauma. It is my rage. It is my guilt.

According to the White House’s web site, 1 is 2 Many: “Over 11% of high school girls report having been physically forced to have sexual intercourse.” Much focus has been on college students, and rightfully so. However, the epidemic of sexual assault is not confined to college campuses. The epidemic is in middle school, high school, college, and beyond.

In 2012, while living in Miami, FL, my oldest daughter — 15 years old at the time (her last name is different than mine, which I will not share) — went to spend the night at a friend’s house. I did not know she had other plans. She was invited to a party, which she attended instead. At the party she was given alcohol spiked with drugs. Apparently it was a gang initiation, and her blonde hair and blue eyes had made her a target. She was gang-raped and tattooed. Those words haunt me. I choke on them. I’ve been a practicing pacifist for a long time, but this rage made me question my core.

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Washington, DC, forum examines trauma-informed approaches to end school-to-prison pipeline

Free Minds

A diverse group of school staff, mental health professionals, justice advocates, and city employees recently crowded the Moot Court Room at the University of the District of Columbia David E. Clark Law School to begin dismantling the school to prison pipeline.

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