Launching a community of people who talk ACEs

Last month, a small group of people met to talk about trauma, specifically to discuss the ACE Study (the CDC's Adverse Childhood Experiences Study) and how to incorporate trauma prevention and trauma-sensitive care into Lawrence-Douglas County organizations, businesses and institutions.

The big question is: how can we start and continue a public conversation about something as difficult as trauma, especially child trauma?

In case you haven’t heard about the CDC's ACE Study, it’s a ground-breaking, mind-bending study that identified a direct link between childhood trauma and the adult onset of chronic disease, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung cancer and COPD, often referred to as emphysema.

ACE scores between four and 10 can identify those of us who are at risk for developing chronic diseases or explain why we have chronic disease. Knowing our ACE score can help us take steps to change or prevent the behavior that leads to those diseases in ourselves and in our children, and to start creating a community that talks easily and unashamedly about trauma and how to prevent it. (Here's a simplified version of the questionnaire.) Using ACE Study scores can help move the conversation about trauma from the cloistered office of a therapist or other health care provider into a public discussion. In other communities, ordinary people are "talking ACEs", and are also providing their own ideas about trauma prevention and care.

So, our small group met in the in the News Center basement conference room, a comfortable place for a discussion. We’d planned to meet for an hour. We ended up talking for two.

It was an extraordinary and exploratory conversation, and although we talked about many topics, the common thread was trauma, and how its sticky tendrils can snake their way into people’s lives and choke off happiness and good health.

Toni Detherage, community liaison and family resource advocate at Success by 6, talked about how she’s incorporated trauma-informed care into parenting classes. She’s helping parents move away from blaming and shaming, and giving them new skills to create a trauma-free environment for their children. She provided us the definitions of trauma, which can be found in our resources section. It’s important to note, she said, that severe trauma changes the way the brain works and develops, which is a critical aspect of understanding why child trauma can change a child’s life forever.

Jason Wescoe, chief operating officer for the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, in Pittsburg, runs a patient-owned and operated clinic that integrates dental, mental, and physical health. That clinic is busy -- it serves 20,000 people a year, regardless of their ability to pay. Trauma-informed care can give pediatricians another tool, he says, because a behavioral health specialist isn’t always available.

Lori Winfrey, an advanced registered nurse practitioner who is clinic manager of Health Care Access, often sees people who have chronic diseases that have emerged out of adverse childhood experiences. Some are able to make the connection between their disease and their trauma; others have not, she says.

Bob Trepinski, director of the Marian Clinic in Topeka, talked about the changes he’s seen in people who participate in weight programs at the clinic, which provides mental, dental and physical health services to uninsured, low-income individuals and families. It takes many agencies to work on a variety of themes to make a difference, he noted.

Lanell Finneran is a special education teacher in the secondary therapeutic classroom at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, where she teaches middle school and high school students and helps them learn how to manage their mental health issues. She also is a registered drama therapist and board certified trainer, and an adjunct professor of drama therapy at KSU.

Carolyn Chinn-Lewis, director of operations for the Kansas Children's Discovery Center in Topeka and president of the Downtown Lawrence Rotary Club is interested in working with other people in our community to build a safe, create and health environment for our children to develop and grow.

Dennis Anderson, managing editor of and the Lawrence Journal-World, has been a Bigs in School (a Big Brothers Big Sisters program) in Lawrence for the last five years, a youth counselor for five years in Connecticut, and has also coached youth baseball teams for 12 years. "It's vital that our community understand how stress affects our children and we learn how to properly react. Not every issue or problem can be treated the same way,” he says.

Sometime during our discussion, we came to the conclusion that we’re on to something.

We want to start a conversation on WellCommons about trauma-informed care, trauma prevention and ACEs in the Lawrence/Douglas County community. We think everyone who provides health, education or social services to individuals or families would find the information useful. Physicians, teachers, police officers, parks and recreation staff, nurses, dentists, chiropractors -- anyone could benefit from knowing about and using ACEs.

For our first steps, we’ll be looking into what other states and communities have done. Toni mentioned that Florida is a trauma-informed state -- every publicly funded program has a trauma-prevention component. Maine has a network of houses for family foster care; they’ve found that approach works best at preventing child abuse. We also know of trauma-sensitive elementary school classrooms in Massachusetts, and probation departments in Washington state that incorporate ACEs and a trauma-sensitive approach to helping youth in the juvenile justice system.

We want to learn as much as possible about what’s happening in other communities, and then organize some workshops for our own to figure out how best to incorporate this information into our daily lives.

If you’re interested in this, or have ideas on how to proceed, please join our group so that we can start the discussion on WellCommons.

Tagged: trauma, ACE Study


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