• 2016 Adverse Childhood Experiences Conference in California focuses on action


    The Adverse Childhood Experiences 2016 Conference, hosted by the Center for Youth Wellness (CYW) and sponsored by the California Endowment, Kaiser Permanente, and Genentech, took place October 19-21 at the Park Central Hotel in downtown San Francisco and began with an exuberant welcome from the CYW’s executive director, Mark Cloutier.

    “Let’s have fun,” he shouted, and the 450 participants — teachers, therapists, doctors, lawyers, and other trauma-cloutierinformed professionals — gave a big shout back.

    In the two years since the first California ACEs Summit, when few people even knew about ACEs, public awareness of adverse childhood experiences and their effect on children and adult mental, emotional, and physical health has grown. Thirty-two states now collect ACEs data, and on the digital network ACEsConnection, a social network for people who are implementing practices based on ACEs science, more than 11,000 people find resources, news, and network and share ideas.

    Dr. Brigid McCaw of Kaiser Permanente’s Family Violence Prevention Program said that beyond awareness, we now need to build connections, advance our knowledge of the science of ACEs, and generate action. On the action front, KP is partnering with schools to provide a tool to train staff to become ACEs-informed and develop ways to help their students.

    Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris, founder of CYW and perhaps the major force behind the entire ACEs movement, smiled as she took over the podium. “This moment for me is like a dream come true,” and she thanked everyone building ACEs awareness, which she said is “the most important health crisis of our time.”

    She said that we need to move beyond awareness to build an ecosystem of ACEs-informed care, such as the simple, free ACEs screening tool that CYW developed, which has been downloaded by 1,100 clinicians.

    But the single most effective intervention, she said, is “a safe, stable relationship with a caring adult,” because children are as responsive to positive experiences as to adverse ones and can develop resilience as a result.

    Burke-Harris also noted that her center is leading a $5 million study with Benioff Children’s Hospital to study the

    Dr. Nadine Burke Harris with Dave Lockridge, founder of ACEOvercomers.

    Dr. Nadine Burke Harris with Dave Lockridge, founder of ACEOvercomers.

    biomarkers of ACEs; last year, the American Association of Pediatrics held a daylong seminar on ACEs at its annual symposium; and our very own ACEsConnection, founded by Jane Stevens, has become “the most powerful network.”

    She also cited James Redford’s film, Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope, and encouraged participants, “We have an opportunity to create a different future for our children.T he right people are in this room right now, so let’s get started.”

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  • Parenting’s troubled history: Why changing family patterns is our most important work

    apunish2As we learned from the CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study, negative childhood experiences are often kept secret, downplayed, or repressed because of our powerful desire to put such things behind us. Unfortunately, our minds and our brains don’t work that way. Patterns can play out automatically, no matter how hard we try to be original and create our own realities.

    Just as it is important to know family medical history (e.g., diabetes or tuberculosis) it is equally important to know about our social inheritance.

    What is your ancestry? What destructive patterns did your parents and grandparents overcome? Think back to your childhood, to how you were disciplined. What were the consequences in the short term? In the long term?

    There is a chilling quote from Time magazine essayist Lance Morrow, from his ACES-informed book, Heart: “Generations are boxes within boxes; inside my mother’s violence you find another box, which contains my grandfather’s violence, and inside that box (I suspect but do not know) you would find another box with some such black secret energy—stories within stories, receding in time.”

    Punishment and Fear-Based Leadership

    Authoritarian or autocratic leadership, the very strict style predominant in early 20th century European countries, was also the predominant style in the U.S. before the 1960s. Many families and subcultures in America still abide by this style. The primary goal of authoritarian parents is obedience; their tools are blame, shame, guilt, threats, force, and abuse. Their goal is to control, and their greatest tool is punishment.

    Punishment appears to be an easy fix in the short run, but it can actually cause bigger problems in the long run—instilling fear, distrust, and resulting in a damaged relationship. Youngsters learn that it is okay to bully to get their way. Furthermore, punishment causes great confusion: “How can the most important people in my life, who should be loving and protecting me, be attacking me?”

    Research shows that punishment increases aggressiveness and behavior problems, and lowers IQ and academic performance. Punishment provokes anger and the desire for revenge. When backed into a corner, humans may revert to their basest instincts.

    The American Psychological Association states that “corporal punishment is violent and unnecessary, may lower self-esteem, and is liable to instill hostility and rage without reducing the undesired behavior.” The APA adds, “corporal punishment is likely to train children to use physical violence.”

    Yet, many parents still rely on punishment, holding beliefs such as,

    • “My parents used it and I turned out okay”
    • “My parents never punished me, and I didn’t turn out okay”
    • “You have to beat your own kid or the world/the police/others will beat him/her.”

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