Talking ACEs and building resilience in prison

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They’re the forgotten, the 2.3 million people in US prisons. The overwhelming majority of them have experienced significant childhood trauma. Before you click out of here, this isn’t another boo-hoo story, as some of you might describe it, about the dismal state of our corrections system, for inmates and guards alike. (Oh, yes, it is profoundly dismal.) This is a story about how one tiny part of it isn’t so dismal, and actually addresses head-on the fact that most (91 percent) of the approximately 2.3 million prisoners will finish their sentences and go home. To your neighborhood. So….wouldn’t you want the prisons to help these guys and gals so that they, and by definition, we, come out happier and more well-adjusted than when they went in?

Well, yea-uh.

Ok. Just in case you glossed over it, let’s go back to that sentence about childhood trauma. It is precisely why the 2,300 inmates at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Wash., ended up there. Over the last 20 years some profound, intense research revealed that people who have a lot of childhood adversity have seven times the risk of becoming an alcoholic, 12 times the risk of attempted suicide, twice the risk of cancer and heart attacks. They’re more violent, more likely to be victims of violence, have more broken bones, more marriages, and use prescription drugs more often than people who have no childhood adversity. And those are just the few drops in the bucket of how childhood trauma affects people’s lives.

A big surprise in the groundbreaking CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) — besides that most of us have at least one ACE — was how “normal” and ordinary some of the types of adversity are. Seeing your parents divorce. Living with a family member who’s an alcoholic or depressed, as well as having other mental illness. Verbal abuse, which includes being screamed at every day as well as being quietly told by your mother, “I wish you’d never been born, you freak.” Then there’s the stuff that you expect will mess with your head — physical and sexual abuse. Physical neglect. Emotional neglect — hardly being acknowledged or talked to during your entire childhood. Watching your mother being hit. And having a family member in prison. Since the ACE Study was published, dozens of other ACE surveys showed similar results. Recognizing that definitely more than 10 types of ACEs exist, other surveys have included racism, bullying, witnessing violence outside the home, serious illness or accident in the family, experiencing war, losing a family member to deportation, ending up in foster care, etc.

All these experiences damage the function and structure of kids’ brains. Kids experiencing trauma act out. They can’t focus. They can’t sit still. Or they withdraw. Fight, flight or freeze – that’s a normal and expected response to trauma. Kids who are experiencing trauma live in survival mode. So, they have a really hard time shifting their attention from survival brain to learning brain. Their schools often

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The quest to find biomarkers for toxic stress, resilience in children — A Q-and-A with Jack Shonkoff

The JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress, led by Dr. Jack Shonkoff, is working on developing biological and behavioral markers for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and resilience that they believe will be able to measure to what extent a child is experiencing toxic stress, and what effect that stress may be having on the child’s brain and development.

The JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress is comprised of scientists, pediatricians and community leaders, and is a project of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

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Oakland, CA, trying out model used in Baltimore to reduce trauma, increase resilience

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Baltimore BSC faculty and planning team

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When a group of community organizations in Baltimore came together in 2015, they already knew trauma figured large in many lives. There was violence in the community, in schools, and in community members’ homes. Police brutality occurred. Many suffered the loss of loved ones to incarceration or death. There were house fires and homelessness. Much of the dysfunction was systemic and rooted in racism, according to a report on a collaborative effort to restructure city organizations and agencies. The goal was to build community resilience.

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Curiosity and reciprocity: Engaging community in the ACE & resilience movement

In an all-day workshop that Laura Porter was leading with community organizers and parents, she told the story of a woman from the Congo who had to leave her homeland. Before the woman left, she had a dream about living in the United States.

The woman said she imagined opening her door, letting her children run free, hearing them laugh and play. She envisioned people asking one another, “How are you?” without any compulsion to evade by answering, “Fine. I’m fine.” And, she added, “I could go with my children to the store and not have to be afraid that they would be arrested for being black.”

Porter was struck by the woman’s words—a vision of safety and belonging that is rarely voiced out loud. “As we’re engaging people, that dream is just under the surface,” says Porter. “When we touch on that, we touch on something very powerful: the core values…that go beyond political strife or individual experience. We can touch an aspirational world.”

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England and Wales produce new animation about ACEs & resilience

Here’s a new ACE animation that was posted last week by Dr. Helen Lowey and Prof. Mark A. Bellis at Public Health Wales.

Lowey, consultant in public health, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council in Northwest England, sent this information with the animation:

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are those that directly harm a child; such as physical, verbal and sexual abuse or physical or emotional neglect – as well as those that affect the environment where they grow up; including parental separation, domestic violence, mental illness, alcohol abuse, drug use or incarceration.

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Greater Kansas City first responders, educators, health care workers, sports & faith community embrace learning about childhood trauma, practicing resilience

In a video on the Resilient KC website, police officer Mikki Cassidy notes that “my regular day is everybody else’s worst day.” Then she describes how mindfulness training has helped her find peace amid the clamor: “This moment, right here, I’m okay.”

Later in the clip, Sonia Warshawski, a Holocaust survivor, recalls being shoved onto a train to Treblinka and, later, losing her mother to the gas chamber. “One of my highest points is when I speak in schools, when students tell me, ‘You changed my life,’” she says.

And Josiah Hoskins, a youth raised in foster care, talks about the mantra that helped him survive: “Even if all you have is yourself, with a wall behind you and the world coming at you, you can make peace with yourself.”

The video concludes with four words—“Stories Matter. What’s yours?”—and an invitation for others to share experiences of adversity and healing.


Awareness on Both Sides of the State Line

The campaign is just one prong of Kansas City’s multi-sector effort to raise awareness about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and build resilience on both sides of the state line. Resilient KC — a partnership between the pre-existing Trauma Matters Kansas City (TMKC) network and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce — has worked to cultivate “ambassadors” who can bring the ACEs message to colleagues, clients and community members in business, the armed services, education, justice and health care.

ACEs are adverse childhood experiences that harm children’s developing brains so profoundly that the effects show up decades later; they cause much of the U.S. and the world’s chronic disease, most mental illness, and are at the root of most violence.

The CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study), a groundbreaking public health study, discovered that childhood trauma leads to the adult onset of chronic diseases, depression and other mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.

The ACE Study looked at 10 types of childhood trauma: physical, emotional and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; living with a family

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Putting resilience and resilience surveys under the microscope

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“Resilience is a message of hope,” says Debbie Alleyne, a child welfare specialist at the Center for Resilient Children at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, located in Villanova, PA.“It is important for everyone to know that no matter their experience, there is always hope for a positive outcome. Risk does not define destiny.”

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Artists in the ACEs and resilience movement: Creative avenues to change

 

From "Airings...Voices of our Youth", created by staff from the Bellingham and Mount Baker School Districts (WA), the Whatcom Family and Community Network, faculty at Western Washington University’s Psychology Department and, more than 20 teenagers from the community who have shared their stories (Photo: Angela Kiser and Nolan McNally).

From “Airings…Voices of our Youth”, created by staff from the Bellingham and Mount Baker School Districts (WA), the Whatcom Family and Community Network, faculty at Western Washington University’s Psychology Department and, more than 20 teenagers from the community who have shared their stories (Photo: Angela Kiser and Nolan McNally).

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At a June summit in Whatcom County, WA, titled “Our Resilient Community: A Community Conversation on Resilience and Equity,” the arts played a starring role.

Kristi Slette, executive director of the Whatcom Family and Community Network, one of two Washington sites participating in the Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities (MARC) project, says the arts—music, dance, sculpture, storytelling—can help audiences understand trauma, resilience and hope in a visceral way.

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Building human resilience for climate change addressed at Washington, DC, conference

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The missing piece in the response to climate disruption—preparing humans to cope with the trauma and toxic stress it causes—was the focus of a recent Conference on Building Human Resilience for Climate Change sponsored by the International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC). About a hundred mental health professionals, emergency response and disaster management officials, and others from education and faith communities gathered in Washington, DC. Continue reading

Business leaders in the ACEs science and resilience movement: A different kind of bottom line

Vigor Alaska's Ketchikan shipyard at dawn.

Vigor Alaska’s Ketchikan shipyard at dawn.

The owner of the biggest construction firm in Walla Walla, Washington, sat through a seminar that framed adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) science in ways a business person could understand: how childhood trauma could translate into low productivity, high turnover, sinking morale and rising health care costs.

The top cause of on-the-job injury at the construction firm was substance abuse by young male workers. Suddenly, the dots connected. The owner leaned toward Teri Barila, co-founder of the Children’s Resilience Initiative, and said, “Now I know what you’ve been trying to tell us.”

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