Public health clinic adds child trauma to smoking, alcohol, HIV screening

When a pregnant woman visits the Jefferson County Public Health clinic in Port Townsend, WA, a town of about 9,000 people on the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula, she’s asked the typical questions about tobacco, alcohol and other drug use. She’s also screened for something that most public heath departments, ob-gyns or primary care providers don’t even consider asking: her childhood trauma.

That’s because the public health nurses at Family Health Services know that a childhood full of toxic stress causes a lifetime of health problems, and, if not addressed, is usually passed on from parent to child.

But setting up a system to screen for child trauma, which seems so logical in hindsight, wasn’t an easy thing to do, says Quen Zorrah, a public health nurse who led the effort. Even after years of talking, reading research and preparation, the staff was still reluctant. But in the end, she and her co-workers concluded: If we can teach a client to put on a condom, we can ask a client about ACEs.

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