Congressional briefing addresses public policy to improve response to ACEs

Room view with Senators Heitkamp & Durbin.jpg

In the final weeks of the 114th Congress, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) welcomed her colleague Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) as a new host for the third and final briefing on addressing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The December 1 briefing focused on public policies to improve coordination, prevention and response to childhood trauma.

ACEs comes from the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and subsequent surveys that show that most people in the U.S. have at least one ACE, and that people with an accumulation of childhood adversities — including divorce, racism, living with an alcoholic parent, and physical abuse — have a higher risk of adult onset of chronic health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, suicide, and alcoholism.

In addition to joining forces to raise awareness of the impact of ACEs, Senators  Heitkamp and Durbin are drafting legislation based on a framework they have shared widely with stakeholders, other members of Congress, and federal agency officials. A first draft of the legislation may be ready to share as early as this week.

The purpose of the briefing was to provide an overview of public policy initiatives to build capacity to prevent ACEs, build resilience, and implement trauma-informed approaches for children, families, and communities.

Sen. Heitkamp talked about her conversations with colleagues in which she often highlights analysis demonstrating that people with six or more ACEs have a life expectancy 20 years less than individuals with no ACEs. She emphasized the need to take a public health approach to addressing childhood trauma. Whether the issue is community violence or the generational trauma experienced by Native Americans, she said, “the answer lies in preventing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) but also treating and understanding how we treat ACEs because we have a whole population that now falls in that category.”

Sen. Durbin’s interest in ACEs originated in the gun violence in several cities around the country, most notably in Chicago. In 2016, Chicago has seen more than 700 murders (including the grandson of Congressman Danny Davis from Illinois). Durbin explained that he first came to the issue of ACEs by examining the role of guns in community violence, but has since broadened his perspective to include the root causes of violence. He recalled an answer a counselor from the Cook County Juvenile Justice Center gave him when asked about what kind of ACEs they found among kids receiving services at the center and the response is “everything”. Children are receiving diagnoses of depression, bi-polar disorder, and schizophrenia. Perhaps more sobering, analysis demonstrates that 92 percent of Chicago children have been victims of or witness to violence.

Sen. Heitkamp, Sen. Durbin, Christinia Bethel & Joe Barnhart (Left to right)
(l to r) Sen. Heitkamp, Sen. Durbin, Christina Bethell and Joe Barnhardt 

While these statistics are jarring, Durbin expressed optimism that “several federal efforts” to address trauma should receive bipartisan support and held up interventions such as “Bounce Back” to help traumatized children recover from trauma. He acknowledged the work of panelist Dr. Colleen Cicchetti, executive director of the Center for Childhood Resilience at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, that includes training in “Bounce Back.”

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I’m not cured, but I am healing

Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Donna Jackson Nakazawa

More than 133 million American adults — one in two of us — suffer from a chronic condition, including autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, digestive disorders, migraines, back pain, depression, diabetes, cancer and chronic pain. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those of us in our 40s, 50s and 60s are twice as likely as our parents were to suffer from debilitating chronic conditions in middle age.

I’m one of those statistics. I’ve spent much of the past decade navigating my life around health crises. Twice I’ve been paralyzed by Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease similar to multiple sclerosis, but with a more sudden onset and a wider array of possible outcomes. Other diagnoses — low blood cell counts, thyroiditis and the need for a pacemaker — have also complicated my health and my life.

When my kids were younger I coped with bouts of being bedridden by turning my bed into a playground, scattered with board games, Legos and books like A Wrinkle in Time and The Lord of the Rings. One day, my son’s grade school teacher sent home a paper in which she’d circled a line he’d written: “My Mom is the most determined person I know. She’s more determined than Frodo.”

Above all I longed for a normal, ordinary life, that lovely, irreplaceable, gorgeous mess of moment-to-moment reality — to play hide-and-seek with my kids again, to bandage and kiss a skinned knee while rushing to get out the door to a meeting.

I was sure that if I could walk again, tie my kids’ shoes, drive, cook dinner and type, the joy of living would return in high definition. If I could just get back to ordinary life, it would be miracle enough.

But I was wrong. Even after I’d regained the strength to haul myself up the steps — albeit by death-gripping the rail — and drive, cook and write, I was different. Yes, I was profoundly grateful, but it still felt like a half-life. A maybe life.

One day I found myself lying down at the top of the stairs, exhausted by carrying up the laundry basket. That’s when it hit me: These should be the best years of my life. My time to enjoy my kids, who would all too soon be gone. My most productive work years. But the days were whizzing past.

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Illness, I realized, had become my joy thief.

As a health science journalist, I’d written an award-winning book, The Autoimmune Epidemic, on how modern chemicals were overwhelming the human immune system, contributing to rising disease rates. I’d been working with the chronically ill for years, lecturing to groups and exchanging thousands of emails with patients. I knew how many Americans were suffering, despite having benefitted from the best that Western medicine had to offer.

Like me, their lives had been saved, but they felt robbed of joy. 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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Dr. Nadine Burke Harris carries message about child trauma to White House and back

Nadine Burke Harris

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

By Jeremy Loudenback

The efforts of pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris to address of trauma experienced early in life have vaulted her to national attention.

In September, Burke Harris earned recognition from the Heinz Foundation for her work to establish a system to screen and treat children who are dealing with toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse, neglect, poverty and violence. The annual Heinz Award honors five “exceptional Americans, for their creativity and determination in finding solutions to critical issues.” The prestigious Heinz Award for the Human Condition comes with a $250,000 prize.

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Racing ACEs gathering and reflection: If it’s not racially just, it’s not trauma-informed

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The following memo was written by a group of people who participated in the Racing ACEs gathering. 

It’s 2016. Local and national protests rise against an ongoing stream of state-sanctioned murders. African-American lives are being lost at a frequency and in a manner that decry ethnic cleansing. Sacred Indigenous land is being desecrated for profit. African-American, Native American, Latino American, Asian American, and poor communities are facing dislocation, police violence, and a range of traumas that compose the frayed ends of America’s historically racist national fabric.

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2016 Adverse Childhood Experiences Conference in California focuses on action

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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.

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Best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” tells an inspiring story of overcoming ACEs

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In search of insight into the country’s stark cultural divides in preparation for a week of potentially difficult conversations in Kentucky where I’d be attending family reunion and 50-year high school reunion, I dove into “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance. Throughout this mesmerizing, painful, and hilarious memoir, I kept wondering if the author might know about the ACE Study. The answer was found on page 226 when “ACEs” jumps out at me and continues for several pages. I leapt from the living room sofa and darted to the kitchen to tell my fiancé Bill about it—and practically jump for joy.

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