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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Putting Alaska Native hopes, voices at center of state’s ACEs movement

Lisa Wade is the Health, Education, and Social Services Director, tribal court judge, and elected tribal council member for the Alaska Native Village of Chickaloon.

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Before the Alaska Resilience Initiative could push forward on any of its goals—to grow a sustainable statewide network; to educate all Alaskans on brain development, adverse childhood experiences, and resilience-building; and to support organizational, policy and practice change to address trauma—its leaders had to start by listening.

Specifically, they had to listen to Alaska Native people.

Alaska Native people comprise nearly one-fifth of the state’s population, but historically their voices have been largely excluded from decision-making about social services, education and behavioral health.

That’s why Laura Norton-Cruz, program director of the Alaska Resilience Initiative, partnered with First Alaskans Institute and the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council in a May 2016 gathering that put Native perspectives, customs, history and hopes at the center.

That gathering of about 30 people “was setting a tone for the whole state that the voices of Alaska Native people matter in this process,” Norton-Cruz said. The goal was to seek input that could guide the Alaska Resilience Initiative, shape the curriculum for ACE/resilience trainers and frame a more inclusive and equitable approach to the work.

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High cost of childhood trauma in Alaska is documented, especially in Alaskan Native people

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 9.28.16 AMAccording to two sobering reports on the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on Alaskans and on the state’s Native people, the prevalence of all of the eight ACEs measured was higher for Native Alaskans than non-Natives. Almost half of all Native Alaskans grew up with someone who had a substance abuse problem. The rate of sexual abuse is 32% among Alaska Native women, highest of any state’s ACE results. And the prevalence of four or more ACEs in the Native Alaskan community is nearly double that of non-Alaska Natives.

The reports give specificity to the health, economic, and social challenges that are widely recognized both in the general population and among Native Americans in the state. The data was derived from the optional ACEs module in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey conducted for the first time in Alaska in 2013.

Because of the strong demand for the information, the Alaska Tribal Health Consortium released an “Executive Summary” of the ACEs data on Alaska Native (AN) people in advance of the broader report, “Adverse Childhood Experiences: Overcoming ACEs in Alaska,” by the Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and the Alaska Mental Health Board (AMHB /ABADA ). Continue reading

Heavy childhood trauma ups risk of child/teen suicide 51x; so how does a community prevent it?

Dr. Linda Chamberlain lives in Alaska, where suicide rates are “typically double the national rate”, she says in lindathis blog post on the web site of the Scattergood Foundation. She’s the Thomas Scattergood Scholar on Child Behavioral Health this year. As founder of the Alaska Family Violence Prevention Project, she’s concerned about domestic violence and child abuse, which the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study found are risk factors for suicide. She points out how ACEs increase the risk of suicide:

Early adverse childhood experiences [ACEs] dramatically increase the risk of suicidal behaviors.  ACEs have a strong, graded relationship to suicide attempts during childhood/adolescent and adulthood.  An ACE score of 7 or more increased the risk of suicide attempts 51-fold among children/adolescents and 30-fold among adults (Dube et al, 2001).  In fact, Dube and colleagues commented that their estimates of population attributable fractions for ACEs and suicide are “of an order of magnitude that is rarely observed in epidemiology and public health data.”  Nearly two-thirds (64%) of suicide attempts among adults were attributable to ACEs and 80% of suicide attempts during childhood/adolescence were attributed to ACEs.  Further, while system responses to family violence continue to place greater emphasis on physical forms of abuse, the strongest predictor of future suicide attempts in ACE research was emotional abuse.

Holy Toledo. These numbers are nothing but scary. And tragic.

One of the ways that communities can begin to prevent suicide is to understand adverse childhood

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In Alaska, trying to create a “new” normal in a place where childhood trauma is too normal

[Editor’s note: This very moving essay by Chantelle Pence, a family advocate for the Copper River Basin Child Advocacy Center and a consultant  at Copper River Consulting in Gakona, Alaska, originally appeared on the Anchorage Daily News web site.]

It was autumn. The time of harvest. I walked with my dad to the ridge to target practice with a .270 rifle. I got the target in my sights and pulled the trigger. I don’t know if I hit my mark, because as soon as the gun sounded, an unexpected feeling was triggered in me. My dad called my name as I took off stumbling and running back to the house. I was embarrassed. I was confused. I was heartbroken. I heard my own thoughts in my mind. “He didn’t have time to change his mind. … He didn’t have time to change his mind …”

The sound of the gunshot and the speed of the bullet brought up feelings that I didn’t even know I had. My young friend had shot himself just days before my birthday, earlier that year. I remember waking up to the news. I remember the next day. My mom hugged me and cried while I stood numb. I told myself that if I didn’t think about it, maybe it wouldn’t be true. I didn’t cry until the funeral, and then in the fall when I fired the gun.

Nearly two decades later, I found my own son with a gun, contemplating thoughts of suicide. I banged on the window of the cabin until he let me in. I took the gun but he wouldn’t let me take him. It was too late for that. He had been hurt too badly. The time to take him in my arms and love him well had passed. He was a young man who thought he had nothing to live for. When he was 10 he told me that he felt like he was in a brick room and he couldn’t see a way out. That was the first time he made reference to suicide. I didn’t know how to help him out of the space I had helped put him in. If I knew then what I know now …

I now know that what was once considered normal, for the time and place I was raised (and reared my own children in), was creating adverse childhood experiences (ACE). Studies have shown that adverse

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Alaska teen loses boyfriend to suicide, founds Hope4Alaska for year-long mission to save 100 people from suicide

Teressa Baldwin on the day she graduated from high school, with her best friend.

[Ed. note: By the time Teressa Baldwin, a recent graduate of Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, Alaska, was 10 years old, she knew six people who had committed suicide. After her boyfriend committed suicide, she turned her grief into a campaign to prevent suicides among Native Alaskans, and founded Hope4Alaska. She gave permission to republish this amazing speech that she gave at a meeting to 350 members of the Alaska Association of Student Government last spring.]  

I was always told to say that I am honored to be here and also that if the words I speak offend you, I apologize.

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