The goal of the Network’s Summit each year is to connect and engage all sectors of our community in relevant conversations about the health and welfare of the children and families.
This year, the topic of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) was the focus of the event. The Network aspired to create not only an awareness of the ACEs research and the findings, but to also help attendees embrace the questions of “how am I contributing or how can I contribute to the health of my community and help create resiliency to these adverse experiences?”
Laura Porter, the director of ACE Partnerships for the Department of Social and Health Services, was the keynote speaker for the event. SVCN Director Laura Smith introduced Ms. Porter explaining, “Laura Porter has been instrumental in bringing the Adverse Childhood Research to Washington state. Our state is now leading the way in putting this information to work in meaningful and life- changing ways.”
The initial ACEs study started in the 1990s revealed that there is connection between the number of adverse childhood experiences a person has and their long term heath. The more ACEs a person has experienced, the more long-term health problems (obesity, hyper-tension, depression, etc.) they experience. The ACEs considered in the original study included: child physical abuse, child sexual abuse, child emotional abuse, neglect, mentally ill, depressed or suicidal person in the home, drug addicted or alcoholic family member, witnessing domestic violence against the mother, parental discord (indicated by divorce), separation, abandonment, and incarceration of any family member.
It is important to note that more than 63 percent of the 17,000 participants in the original study reported experiencing at least one adverse childhood experience, and more than 20 percent reported experiencing more than three adverse childhood experiences. Understanding that most people have experienced at least one ACE can change the way you interact with them because it encourages you treat others with more compassion and understanding. Data from Washington state reveal that 42 percent of high school sophomores and seniors have three or more ACEs, a rate higher than what adults in our state report.
This research was selected to be presented because much has been learned in recent years about how to create and promote resiliency (the ability to recover from setbacks) for children, especially those who face ACEs. Following the ACEs presentation, participants discussed their personal contributions, community contributions, and programs that support resiliency that are already in place.
Then, the group discussed ways to extend resiliency support though out the valley. Conditions that support and build resiliency include those that help build or provide social-emotional support, encourage people to feel that good things happen to them, and provide hope. This may happen through opportunities for youth to get involved in the local community, local teen events, parent-support groups, park/recreation programs, hospital outreach care, healthy family relationships, senior centers, toddler groups, childcare facilities, neighborhood connections, public school programs, church outreach programs, and mentor opportunities.
These conditions are vitally important in the reduction of the overall ACEs “score” for an individual, as they encourage and promote healthy social and emotional connections at every age, from birth to adulthood. Participants left knowing that there is already so much in place in the valley that promotes resiliency, and they also left with new ideas for how to expand and improve those efforts.
Riverview parent, Laura Tisdale, shared, “As a parent in the Valley, I appreciated the question of how can we contribute to the health of our treasured community? It is a question we try to instill in our family values. Can we help in some way? Are we using positive, healthy behaviors with in our family and in our community? When attending the Key Leaders Summit, we all had the chance to come from a personal perspective, recommit and take action.”
In closing, SVCN Director Laura Smith reflected, “We focused on the ACES information for this year’s summit because the link between ACEs and health is abundantly clear. It is our hope that seeds were planted at this event and those seeds will grow throughout the valley as individuals and organizations expand their commitment to keeping youth connected.”