Iowans Thrive Blog
Featuring stories, research, and news on Iowa's movement to respond to ACEs
By Mady Colby, BSW intern with Iowa ACEs 360
I am currently in my final year of earning my bachelor’s in social work, and until a few months ago, I didn’t know what Adverse Childhood Experiences are. I have been in college for about 5 years, during which time, I have taken many psychology, human development, and social work classes; yet, it wasn’t until the end when I finally learned how ACEs can impact children mentally and physically.
During my mental health and well-being class, we started a unit called ACEs and neurobiology. My professor asked us to take a test and add up our ACE scores with no further explanation on what the scores meant. It was later revealed to us that individuals with an ACE score of 6 or more have roughly 20 years taken off their life expectancy. The class erupted with, “We are going to die in our 60’s?!”.
My professor consoled us and explained that individuals with an ACE score of 6 or more are at greater risk for turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like smoking, alcoholism, and drug use to cope with the trauma they have experienced during their childhood, and that the reduced life expectancy is an average among a wide population. That was when I realized that ACEs have a big impact on people’s lives even outside of their childhood and this impact is not talked about enough.
The idea of adding “360” to our name started at our coalition’s beginning, when those coming together to raise awareness of the original ACE Study wanted to acknowledge the full-circle view we needed to have of how to respond to the study’s findings and of everyone who should be involved.
But as we shared the ACE Study findings widely, we created the wrong kind of narrative that has led to public stigma around those who have had ACEs and blame on parents for what their children have experienced. We failed to effectively communicate how our polices, systems, and practices can cause the trauma children face and how Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and those with low-incomes are often most impacted. ACEs doesn't just impact everyone, it impacts some groups of people more.
A widening group of voices and perspectives are pushing the conversation about ACEs in new directions. We are learning more and more about what it means to respond to ACEs, and more important, to create the conditions for healthy development and for all individuals to thrive in our communities.
The combined forces of the pandemic, calls for racial justice, and economic crisis have brightly exposed deeply rooted issues that we know have long existed in our communities and systems and called on us to acknowledge these issues and move toward greater action. Our team especially has been reflecting on this period of time and the harmful narrative we have contributed to. We are rethinking where we need to target our attention to have greater impact in more holistically and comprehensively addressing ACEs.
Here we share three areas where we see the ACEs conversation expanding and where you can go to learn more. We will dive deeper into these areas over the next several months.
Halfway into her son’s second baseball game of the day, Stephanie Reinhardt noticed he wasn’t playing third base. She went to the dugout and asked what was going on and he explained that his arm hurt. In the car on the way home, her son mentioned that he hadn’t played in the first game either.
“My own son didn’t play an entire game in the field and I didn’t realize it,” Stephanie says.
When Michelle Delong arrives home, she finds it difficult to focus on her boyfriend’s report of his day or doesn’t want to make decisions about what to do that evening after having made decisions all day. When eating out at a restaurant, she finds herself listening to other people’s conversations to look for safety or threats of safety.
These are examples the supervisors in Polk County Department of Human Services’ Child Welfare Division now recognize as the impact of trauma on their lives. Talking about these moments is a shift that’s happened as they have learned about secondary traumatic stress in the workplace and how to better support each other with difficult work that includes removing children from abusive situations and working with families who have experienced tremendous trauma.
By Emily Johnson, Teacher Well-Being Coach, Tuned In Teachers
Like many remote teachers, I have enjoyed donning yoga pants, a dressy blouse, and earrings when participating in online classes. As we move closer to the start of the school year, teachers will need to continue to wear their stretch pants as flexibility will be the way of classroom life for 2020-2021. We may have to change the learning environment with a day's notice, we may gain and lose students due to illness, and we may need to adjust our instruction in response to the changes around us.
Being flexible first requires us to acknowledge the feelings we have about the year ahead. While we have always experienced stress in trying to support all of our students’ needs and keep up with the demands of our professional and personal lives, this year has brought significant tensions, as we wrestle with grief, uncertainty, fear, and exhaustion.
Our ability to care for ourselves and create an environment of connection and support is critical to serving our students and their families, who are also facing similar tensions. To prepare for the resilience that we will need, we must ground ourselves in practices that support our well-being and the well-being of our students.
I would like to offer the following practices to create a foundation for us to react to changes in a more fluid way.
The work of supporting children and families is already incredibly difficult. Long hours, little resources, listening to stories about trauma, and having to make difficult decisions can all add up to feelings of burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress.
Then COVID-19 hit.
Iowa ACEs 360 has partnered with Chris Foreman (pictured here), a trainer, consultant and member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, to support supervisors in this time of crisis. Her training explains these tensions we and our staff may be wrestling with during this time: