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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California child trauma advocates eye policy impact

Anna Sutton, Yolo County Maternal Child Adolescent Health; Nadine Burke Harris, Center for Youth Wellness; Gail Kennedy, ACEs Connection Network

(l to r) Anna Sutton, Yolo County Maternal Child Adolescent Health; Nadine Burke Harris, Center for Youth Wellness; Gail Kennedy, ACEs Connection Network ___________________________________________

By Jeremy Loudenback,

Last week, a coalition of California child trauma advocates gathered in San Diego to advance a platform that seeks create policy change in the state and capitalize on a shifting climate around criminal-justice reform.

The meeting was convened by the San Francisco-based Center for Youth Wellness (CYW), a pediatric clinic that has emerged as an organizing force in the effort to make systems better address early childhood adversity. The Center’s work is grounded in the findings of the landmark 1997 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study that connected early experiences of trauma during childhood and subsequent health issues later in life.

The San Diego gathering comes on the heels of the first summit on ACEs, held last year in San Francisco. After that meeting, an ACEs Policy Working Group met throughout the year with the goal of developing a common policy agenda that will help support the push for an increased focus on child trauma across many different child-serving sectors including health, juvenile justice, child welfare, early childhood and education, as well as within business, nonprofit and philanthropic communities.

As part of that work, CYW in September released the Children Can Thrive: A Vision for California’s Response to Adverse Childhood Experiences report, which described broad recommendations for preventing and responding to child trauma. On Thursday, CYW unveiled the following seven strategies they hope will guide similar efforts across the different sectors over the next three years:

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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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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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Chicago’s trauma-informed summer jobs program prevents kids from engaging in violence

President & Deshawn_300DPI

President Obama congratulates One Summer Chicago Plus star graduate DeShawn Shepherd

Between the ages of 4 and 15, Jonathan Booker was in and out of 13 homeless shelters. His mother was often too busy to care for him, his grandmother tried but found she was too old and didn’t have enough money, and he never knew his father, Booker says. He fell into the wrong crowd and sold drugs on the streets of Chicago’s South Side Roseland neighborhood, he says.

“I didn’t have people in my corner,” Booker says. “I didn’t have people I could depend upon.”

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$2.2 Million initiative highlights trauma policy push

By Jeremy Loudenback,


Jennifer Jones

This month, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities will kick off a multi-million initiative designed to help service providers translate scientific findings around child trauma, toxic stress and developmental brain science into public policy.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Canada-based Palix Foundation have committed $2.2 million over three years for the Alliance, a powerful membership group of youth service providers, to sub-grant to 15 participating nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and Canada interested in leading child trauma-based reform. All sites will be funded $50,000 for two years, and a developmental evaluation will be conducted within the three-year period.

The “Change in Mind: Applying Neurosciences to Revitalize Communities” initiative is one of several recent efforts aimed at increasing the policy impact of trauma-related research.

According to Change in Mind Director Jennifer Jones, the 15 organizations will serve as leaders in their communities and across the public sector on how to apply trauma-related practices. While each organization may have a different set of policy and advocacy goals, they will share successful strategies with each other and participate with an outside organization to evaluate effectiveness. The initiative kicks off this month in Chicago with an organizing conference that will help develop collective goals to accompany the specific policy priorities of each site.

The moment is ripe, Jones said, for nonprofit service providers to take a leading role in encouraging adoption of trauma-informed practices.

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School leaders rethink school discipline at White House conference

Mike Lamb, TurnAround for Children ________________________

Mike Lamb, Turnaround for Children

There is a growing national consensus, reflected in the positions and priorities of lawmakers at all levels of government, that the U.S. criminal justice system must be reformed with the goal of ending mass incarceration.  That consensus extends to upstream preventive strategies, especially for improving approaches to school discipline.  The zero-tolerance approach to school discipline leads to approximately three million children being expelled or suspended annually, with a disproportionate number being children of color. This indisputably contributes to increased school dropout rates, juvenile justice system involvement, and ultimately to higher levels of incarceration.
A July 22 meeting at the White House to “Rethink School Discipline” reflects this growing consensus. The Obama Administration convened several hundred school leaders from around the country to hear from federal policymakers and share best practices and current research. There were major addresses by the heads of two federal departments—U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan set the stage, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch made concluding remarks.  But  center stage belonged to local school leaders, philanthropists, and academics.

Mike Lamb, Turnaround for Children’s executive director in Washington, D.C., reported on the breakout session he attended, “Building Trauma-Informed Schools.” One takeaway message, said Lamb, is that there is a roadmap to follow in schools and in classrooms to help manage the impacts on teaching and learning from the stress in children’s lives, especially those affected by the trauma of multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). [Learn more about adverse childhood experiences at ACES 101.]

“This gives us hope for the most challenged children,” he said.

In his report on the small group conversation, Lamb highlighted three messages. He noted that the data might be scary but the situation is not hopeless. The

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