Iowans Thrive Blog
Featuring stories, research, and news on Iowa's movement to respond to ACEs
Professionals who protect and support individuals experiencing violence at home have raised concerns that this period of stress and isolation could cause a spike in domestic abuse. Without connections to teachers, pediatricians or other community members who provide support or report abuse, children are especially vulnerable in these situations.
According to Tess Cody, executive director of ACCESS (Assault Care Center Extending Shelter & Support) that provides services in five Iowa counties, calls for support related to domestic violence and child abuse have been on the rise nationally and an increase is anticipated locally as the need for social distancing continues. In today’s pandemic, people might especially be weighing the health risks of seeking help versus managing through their current situations at home.
She offers these ways for the community to respond:
The COVID-19 pandemic creates a significant risk to our health. As our lives are transformed in response, we also face another threat: high levels of stress from fear, uncertainty, loneliness, and desperation.
For those already struggling before the crisis or now facing job loss, a lack of resources, or no help at home, this time can be especially overwhelming and lead to challenges within the home. Many communities are already seeing signs of increased violence, mental health concerns, and substance use.
We know from The ACE Study science that adversity can have a major long-term impact on our future health and well-being, but we also know that positive experiences can counteract these outcomes.
Now, more than ever before, we need to be creative in how we respond.
We can do our part to reinforce families’ foundations in the wake of this storm and create the building blocks for children’s healthy development and well-being. Strategies must focus on helping caregivers alleviate their heavy load of stress and to foster the safe, nurturing environments children need to thrive.
Here’s how we can work to address stress at all levels during this pandemic:
Around any table discussing children and family issues in Ottumwa, Pat McReynolds and Cheryll Jones are likely present, leading or participating, and often grounding the conversation in the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research.
Hearing about The ACE Study from Dr. Robert Anda with the CDC a decade ago was the spark they and several stakeholders needed to unify their community around prevention and family support efforts. They especially connected with the idea that the challenges they saw with kids and families could stem from past traumas and that interventions needed to start early in a child’s life, with support for parents and children.
Since that spark, they have worked to spread knowledge about ACEs and related topics and build champions for change—all without a formal coalition. Knowledge about ACEs is now being infused into social service agencies, the education system, health care, the community college, and even city government.
“When we’re at the table, if you don’t know about ACEs, you’re going to learn it,” says Cheryll, a nurse practitioner with the University of Iowa’s Child Health Specialty Clinic.
Preventing ACEs in future generations starts at the VERY beginning, when the brain begins to develop in the womb.
Many Iowa parents face significant stressors, especially from environmental factors and historical trauma. That stress can be passed on to their children as they are born and disrupt healthy development.
An updated white paper from the Iowa ACEs 360 Coalition explores how trauma is passed down to future generations, how parents are experiencing greater stress, and what we can do to respond through prenatal strategies.
Here are a few highlights:
Dim lights. Three students and a teacher huddled over a textbook. A digital fireplace burning on the white board. Students laughing together before sitting down to work at a table or computer station.
This Flex Academy studio at Hoover High School, one of six at Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS), is centered around creating a calm and supportive environment for students to learn at their own pace. Often the students who attend have failed a class, are missing a lot of school, or are struggling to learn in a traditional classroom. The academy gives them the flexibility to learn online or in the studio with teachers there to guide them.
“I think we over-complicate what we can do to engage students in school,” says Mimi Willoughby, Academic Pathways supervisor at DMPS. “Really it’s a caring environment, a calm space with some flexibility.”