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.
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.”