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.