The owner of the biggest construction firm in Walla Walla, Washington, sat through a seminar that framed adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) science in ways a business person could understand: how childhood trauma could translate into low productivity, high turnover, sinking morale and rising health care costs.
The top cause of on-the-job injury at the construction firm was substance abuse by young male workers. Suddenly, the dots connected. The owner leaned toward Teri Barila, co-founder of the Children’s Resilience Initiative, and said, “Now I know what you’ve been trying to tell us.”
Across the country, the “aha” about ACEs science is happening in board rooms and break rooms as business leaders begin to see the relationship between adversity, trauma, resilience, and the workplace.
ACEs science comprises five parts (see ACEs 101 for more information):
- 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.
- How toxic stress caused by ACEs damages the function and structure of kids developing brains
- How toxic stress caused by ACEs affects every part of the body, leading to autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis, as well as heart disease, breast cancer, lung cancer, etc.,
- How toxic stress caused by ACEs can alter how our DNA functions, and how that can be passed on from generation to generation,
- Resilience research — how the brain is plastic and the body wants to heal. This research ranges from looking at how the brain of a teen with a high ACE score can be healed with cognitive behavior therapy, to how schools can integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices that result in an increase in students’ scores, test grades and graduation rates.
At Vigor Alaska, a shipyard in Ketchikan, each day begins with a “stretch and flex,” as nearly 200 employees—from welders to data-entry specialists—take the “big breath break,” a two-minute, deep-breathing respite that they are invited to use anytime they feel stressed.
Broetje Orchards in Eastern Washington, with 6,000 acres of apple and cherry trees and 2,400 workers during high-volume harvest months, operates a community of affordable housing for employees called “Vista Hermosa” (“beautiful view”); it includes year-round staff to offer guidance for substance abuse, domestic violence and parenting issues.
The Health Federation of Philadelphia recently contracted to bring sessions on trauma-informed customer service to frontline employees and managers of the city’s Revenue Department, including coaching in verbal de-escalation and strategies to avoid re-traumatizing customers.
And in Helena, the owner of two McDonald’s franchises who wants to bring trauma-informed approaches to her managers recently invited leaders from Elevate Montana, a statewide ACEs initiative, to conduct a four-hour ACE-and-resilience training.
Todd Garrison, executive director of ChildWise Institute, which manages Elevate Montana, says his background in corporate finance helps him explain to business people why they