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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Middle school tackles everybody’s trauma; result is calmer, happier kids, teachers and big drop in suspensions

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John Jimno

During the 2014/2015 school year, things were looking grim at Park Middle School in Antioch, CA. At the time, staff couldn’t corral student disruptions. Teacher morale was plummeting. By the end of February 2015, 192 kids of the 997 students had been suspended — 19.2 percent of the student population.

“I was watching really good people burning out from the [teaching] profession and suspending kids over and over and nothing was changing behavior-wise, and teachers were not happy about it,” says John Jimno, who was in his second year as principal at that time.

So, Jimno and the staff took advantage of a program that Contra Costa County was integrating into its Youth Justice Initiative and, in doing so, joined a national trauma-informed school movement that has seen hundreds of schools across the country essentially replace a “What’s wrong with you?” approach to dealing with kids who are having troubles with asking kids, “What happened to you?”, and then providing them help.

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Early childhood educators learn new ways to spot trauma triggers, build resiliency in preschoolers

Julie Kurtz, co-director, trauma-informed practices in early childhood education, WestEd Center for Child & Family Studies/photo by Laurie Udesky

A hug may be comforting to many children, but for a child who has experienced trauma, it may not feel safe.

That’s an example used by Julie Kurtz, co-director of trauma-informed practices in early childhood education at the WestEd Center for Child & Family Studies (CCFS), as she begins a trauma training session. Her audience, preschool teachers and staff of the San Francisco, CA-based Wu Yee Children’s Services at San Francisco’s Women’s Building, listen attentively.

Kurtz leads them into a description of how a child’s young brain functions, how young children – regardless of whether they have experienced trauma or not — live in their reptile brain.

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Zorgos: A superpower we can teach kids

Zorgos: A superpower we can teach kids

This article contains two excerpts from the beginning and end of The Bullying Antidote: Superpower Your Kids for Life, by Dr. Louise Hart and Kristen Caven. The book explores how ACEs are created by stress, change, beliefs, and tradition, and provides a guide to positive parenting so that parents can prevent them in their children and communities.

 

The Bullying Antidote: Zorgos

Bullying is a power dynamic where one person exerts control over another physically, emotionally, or socially. Bullying can be persistent—a focused and repeated pattern—or it can be a single, traumatic event. In the bullying dynamic, one person always loses.

There is no pill, no quick fix for the enormous problem of bullying. But there are thousands of solutions…and we’d like you to have access to them all.

There is a superpower with which we’d like to endow your child, and all children. This power enables them to repel bullies and transform their relationships; it allows them to get what they need without resorting to bullying.

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Visionary Atlantan grows community model for trauma-informed housing that benefits schools

Marjy Stagmeier

*Author’s note: This story was co-authored by Jennifer Hossler and Carey Sipp

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Real estate developer Marjy Stagmeier was sifting through tenant applications for an apartment complex she had purchased in Atlanta and noticed something disturbing: Many of the applicants were single mothers making $8/hour.

“I wondered how these women could afford to live on so little, with the cost of housing, childcare and the daily needs of life being so high. Seeing how little they made moved me to decide, then and there, not to ever raise the rent,” says Marjy. “I wanted to keep rent affordable.”

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Explaining the symptoms of PTSD or C-PTSD

Author’s Note: It took me over a month to write this because simply describing what it is like to struggle with the symptoms of C-PTSD resulted in triggering fear, anxiety, and flashbacks.  I persisted with this narrative because I want people who have never experienced the complexities of this illness to have a better understanding of what someone with PTSD or C-PTSD might be trying to manage.  If you personally struggle with anxiety, have PTSD or C-PTSD, or you are triggered by descriptions of fear or trauma, you should not read this.  It is hard to read. It was hard to write.

In the car today, a good friend (I rarely leave the house without someone with me) asked me if I had looked at the condominiums in town for potential rentals when I was in the middle of my housing search last year.  I had, and he asked what I had thought of them and why I had not opted to live there. I told him that the basement in one I looked at

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

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Robert Hull and Donna Christy

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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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