“Exposure to violence is a national crisis that affects approximately two out of every three of our children. In 1979, U.S. Surgeon General Julius B. Richmond declared violence a public health crisis of the highest priority, and yet decades later that crisis remains. Whether the violence occurs in children’s homes, neighborhoods, schools, playgrounds or playing fields, locker rooms, places of worship, shelters, streets, or in juvenile detention centers, the exposure of children to violence is a uniquely traumatic experience that has the potential to profoundly derail the child’s security, health, happiness, and ability to grow and learn — with effects lasting well into adulthood.” Report of the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence https://www.justice.gov/defendingchildhood/cev-rpt-full.pdf

We are long overdue for a national awareness campaign — similar to public health initiatives on how seat belts and car seats save lives, smoking causes cancer, and hand washing prevents the flu.  Education is needed withing every professional sector on how childhood trauma leads to adult life and health disparities including addiction.  Only then can we help those who feel paralyzed by their pasts to achieve the healthy lives they deserve.

The first time I ever heard the words trauma-informed care and the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study was in the summer of 2014. At the time, I was working for the local Police Department as the Director of a grant-funded Crime Reduction Project aimed at reducing drug-related and violent crime.  Of the many program goals, one was to develop a rehabilitative corrections program for felony offenders with addictions in order to reduce recidivism.  Though I’ve lived in this region for decades, even had my own life as well as that of friends, all touched in some way by the addiction crisis, I still had no idea how deeply this crisis impacted communities.  From overcrowded prisons, hospitals delivering staggering rates of babies whose mothers are addicted, to finding foster care shortfall solutions and public-school systems where I first heard phrases like, cradle to prison and school to prison pipeline.  As a mother and grandmother, I wondered who are the children that are born with a predisposition heading them into prison? (more…)

Most of my career has been spent developing and implementing educational programs of one kind or another.  By hearing the message that childhood adversity without having a healthy support system can not only derail brain development, but create a significant risk factor for addiction and future life and health disparities, it impacted me in a way that no other content ever had. Listening to stories of childhood abuse and neglect experienced by those previously incarcerated planted the thought in my mind that trauma was really the gateway drug.  Though childhood trauma is not an excuse for drugs or crime, instead it now offered an explanation for it.  I reasoned no one picks where they start in life and some of the hardship and abuse people experienced was through no fault of their own.  Instead of communities focusing their efforts on a war on drugs, (which efforts don’t seem to be winning), instead we should shift our focus to a war on trauma.  The addiction crisis has challenged community leaders locally to look outside the box for solutions and ACEs science and trauma informed care seemed essential, and in my mind, overlooked. I literally felt that my gaining an understanding of trauma informed care was as important as learning the cure for cancer and if I did not tell my community about it, in some way, I would be held responsible.  

In 2014, that the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a concept paper entitled Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach with the recommendation that communities address trauma by viewing it as an important component of effective behavioral health service delivery. Additionally, it was SAMHSA’s guidance that communities should address trauma through a multi-agency public health approach inclusive of public education.  With this awareness I reached out to several department chairs at our state university to see who would help me educate our town about Adverse Childhood Experiences.  A longtime friend and tenured Psychology professor was among that group, and agreed to help.  While maintaining our busy day jobs, we managed to train over 4,000 professionals in less than three years.  In September of 2018, representatives from SAMHSA, the National Center for Trauma Informed Care, two First Ladies and people from 20 other states came to hear our story and learn of the model we created for building a trauma informed community.  Moving then to work for a regional healthcare system, only increased the valuable lessons and experience I gained by training and coaching numerous school districts, police precincts, juvenile justice programs, healthcare systems and more on how to reduce the effects of childhood adversity and create more resilient communities.  Seeing a tremendous need for this in every city across our nation has prompted me to launch out and offer training and coaching now to other communities.