By Jeremy Loudenback, ChronicleOfSocialChange.org
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:
- Raise public awareness. Lead education campaigns to encourage sectors that serve children and families to take appropriate action on childhood adversity.
- Develop a trauma-informed workforce. Adopt professional licensing and certification standards for child- and family-serving professionals that include competency on trauma-informed approaches, such as recognizing symptoms of trauma and ways to help with healing.
- Recruit and retain a diverse workforce. Recruit and retain diverse professionals serving children and families, particularly in communities that experience childhood adversity more severely and profoundly.
- Increase access to interventions. Increase funding for and access to evidence-based or promising interventions that help children heal from childhood adversity and trauma.
- Promote early identification coupled with interventions. Promote ways to identify when a child is exposed to or suffering from the effects of childhood adversity, and ensure that children have access to interventions that help with healing.
- Partner in efforts to address the determinants of childhood adversity. Advocate for policies, institutional practices and programs that help treat the root causes of childhood adversity, such as poverty, particularly in communities that experience childhood adversity more severely and profoundly.
- Cultivate trauma-informed systems. Advocate for all child- and family-serving systems and organizations to integrate trauma-informed approaches.
In the opening address at the event in San Diego, CYW founder and chief operating officer Nadine Burke Harris described childhood adversity as “the root of the root”: the source of significant lifelong health issues that exert a massive toll on families and communities across the state.
“What’s exciting for me is that we now have the opportunity to join forces, be united in our efforts to get to the root of the root and move the ball forward so that our society can respond differently,” Burke Harris said.
Californians for Safety and Justice Executive Director Lenore Anderson, a key advocate of criminal justice reform in California, later echoed Burke-Harris’s comments, labeling childhood adversity a “public-safety crisis.”
Unaddressed trauma as a result of being a victim of a crime or witnessing violence can lead to tremendous consequences later in life, Anderson said. But as California considers changes to its criminal justice system such as Proposition 47—the 2014 ballot initiative that has released thousands of offenders from state prisons and county jails—there may be new opportunities for addressing child trauma.
Decreasing the state prison population by 40,000 could net a billion dollars, according to Anderson.
“I’m sure you can think of some other ways to use that money,” she told the audience.
Jeremy Loudenback is the Child Trauma Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.
I am new to the ACES conversation, but it strikes me that 6 of the 7 of the recommendations are focused on treatment versus prevention – the only mention that of treating root causes, which could be 7 or more itself. There also is no mention of increasing the buffering or protective factors that help with community level approaches, such as building and / or building on current resiliency efforts and instead, again, a strong focus on treatment. Curious of the rationale behind this.
Let me suggest some newer things on the scene that are part of prevention – the root of the root of the root. One of those things is the CASA program. Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, who can really have a finger on the pulse of what a child is experiencing in their home, in real time. The volunteer is assigned just one child or one family with children, and produces detailed observations about what is working and not working inside the home, and with the relationships – an eyewitness to the scene of the adversity so to speak. The CASA can nip cascading adverse events in the bud, mitigating extreme crises.
The other program is Peer Parenting. A trained worker goes into the home, and retrains the parents in effective parenting skills. Maybe they have made a mistake with one or two children, but by retraining the parent in person in the home, and teaching the children how to respond, it creates new opportunities for that parent and family to succeed and minimizing the adversity in their lives.
I would say that the role of adversity should be examined in light of the fact that we know certain types of adversity are beneficial to children, where they become even more flexible, more resilient, and better at navigating future negative experiences and have built up some immunity to them. But in the end nothing can equal the impact of a kind, loving competent parent or preferably parents in the home, and a peer parent can be a model for that behavior.
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