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.

Recently profiled by the Washington Post, Burke Harris was recognized for her work at the San Francisco-based Center for Youth Wellness (CYW). There, she has worked to address the needs of families in the low-income neighborhood of Bayview-Hunters Point by using the emerging understanding of the impact of ACEs on lifelong health outcomes.

But Burke Harris has also struck a leading advocacy position that extends past the Bay Area in California. She pioneered the development and use of a universal tool to screen children for childhood trauma that has been downloaded from the CYW website more than 1,100 times over the past 13 months. Burke Harris also recently spoke about childhood trauma at a White House convening about school-discipline reform in September.

She has also struck a chord with the broader public, thanks to a September 2014 Ted Talk entitled, “How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime,” which  has been viewed nearly 2.4 million times and led to her selection as the keynote speaker for the 2015 American Academy of Pediatricians’ national conference.

Burke Harris has continued to spread the word about the impact of ACEs through a biannual conference, sponsored by the CYW. At the most recent conference — held last month in San Francisco — Burke Harris spoke with The Chronicle about the growing clout of the ACEs movement, her changing role and more.

The Chronicle of Social Change: This marks the second conference around ACEs, which has drawn folks from around the country in several different fields. What’s different about this year’s gathering?

Nadine Burke Harris: Two years ago in 2014, when we did our first conference, I would go around the country and talk and be invited places, and I was just like, “California needs to have a conference on adverse childhood experiences! And we need to create that.”

At our first conference in 2014, it really was about sounding the alarm and raising awareness and bringing folks together. And we had about I think between 200 and 250 folks that came together.

This year, we got to 500 people, and we had a waitlist of 150 more people. We had to close registration, so the response has been amazing. The focus of this conference is moving from awareness to action. So our goal is to facilitate the movement by creating connections, by giving folks knowledge and tools, and by giving them a little bit of inspiration.

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Educators’ “complex trauma” resolution: Will it have an impact?


Robert Hull and Donna Christy


When I met up with school psychologists Donna Christy and Robert Hull at the Starbucks in Greenbelt, MD, they sparred good-naturedly about each other’s extra-curricular activities outside the school building—he says she is a big honcho with the National Education Association (NEA), and she says he will speak to any audience, anywhere (as long as his expenses are covered) on the subject of trauma and education. Both work for the Prince George’s (P.G.) County School District in nearby Washington, DC.

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Bryan Stevenson: To heal our national trauma, we need to face our genocidal past


Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, won a U.S. Supreme Court case banning mandatory life sentencing without parole for anyone age 17 or younger. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, a state that officially celebrates Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King, Jr., day together, the Harvard-trained lawyer has dedicated his life to serving the poor, the incarcerated, and children prosecuted as adults.

Stevenson keynoted the final day of the 2016 Conference on Adverse Childhood Experiences held October 19-21 in San Francisco and hosted by the Center for Youth Wellness (CYW). CYW is based in Bayview/Hunter’s Point, a part of San Francisco as far removed from the thriving high-tech scene as is Birmingham.

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Dr. Seuss takes over community heroes panel at ACEs conference in California


(l to r) Teri Barila, director of the Children’s Resilience Initiative; Dr. Ariane Marie-Mitchell, assistant professor in Loma Linda University Preventive Medicine and Pediatric Depts. (Photo: Jennifer Hossler)


Sauntering on stage to the beat of Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone, four “heroes” of the ACEs movement took their seats for a panel on trauma-informed and resilience-building communities on October 21, the last day of the 2016 Adverse Childhood Experiences Conference in San Francisco.

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


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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Police and Black Teens: “If I Get Pulled Over Today…”

By JJIE Staff
 At the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta, Michael Gandy, now 28, draws from personal experience as a young black teen. He talks to his mentor and “big brother” Austin Scee, 44, about police, mentorship and the community’s responsibility in the nationwide conversation concerning youth and law enforcement.
Scee: So, Mike, I thought given everything that’s been going on in our country, now might be a good time to revisit something that happened to you and to me in 2008 when you drove up to our house. [My wife] and I met you at the end of the driveway. You were driving your mother’s car, which was a beat-up old car with, I think, fairly heavily tinted windows. You had a police car trailing you as you drove up our street. You made an illegal U-turn in a four-way stop to park in front of our house —

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False confessions make it harder to establish innocence for alleged juvenile offenders


Barry Krisberg

By Barry Krisberg

The national media has widely reported the story of Brendan Dassey, whose murder and sexual assault convictions were reversed by a federal court in Milwaukee on Aug. 12; he had served nearly nine years in prison. He was ordered released unless prosecutors wanted to file a new charge.

Dassey, who was 16 at the time of his arrest, was a central figure in a very popular Netflix documentary — “Making a Murderer.” The court found that the youth was mentally unfit and was coerced into confessing his involvement in the crime by false promises by investigators. The court held that his confession was involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments. His lawyer had not challenged the propriety of the confession.

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