Iowans Thrive Blog
Featuring stories, research, and news on Iowa's movement to respond to ACEs
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.
Growing acknowledgement and understanding of racism in our systems and communities has led the ACEs community to relook at how we talk about childhood trauma and advocate for change. By just focusing on raising awareness of the original ACE Study and ACEs impact on health and well-being, we missed ACEs experienced by Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and people with low-income as they were not well-represented in the study. We also failed to ask: What societal and community conditions contribute to the adversity families are experiencing in the home? And what about children growing up in loving homes but still experiencing trauma?
The ACE Study is limited in the types of trauma studied and in explaining what can lead to trauma. As we talk about ACEs, we must connect ALL the dots by explaining how racism permeates policies and systems and cause conditions that harm families and how Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and those with low-income are often most impacted. We also need to acknowledge how a history of oppression and violence against groups of people have shaped our DNA today and created collective trauma we must all address.
Instead of making assumptions about what causes disparities and dwelling on those disparities, we must look to communities that have historically been marginalized to tell us what challenges they see and what solutions exist, and we need to invest in those solutions. We need to do more than improve conditions for individuals and foster relationships within families; we must work to change systems so that children and families are liberated from harmful policies and practices and have the components they need for healthy development from the start.
Positive Childhood Experiences
As we acknowledge the experiences that can harm a child’s healthy development, we also increasingly know that certain kinds of experiences are necessary for a child’s healthy development. A study published in 2019 looked at seven types of positive childhood experiences and found that these experiences show a dose-response relationship with depression and poor health in the same ways that ACEs do. In other words, the more positive childhood experiences someone reported, the less likely they were to experience depression, even if they had experienced ACEs. Another study has shown that greater childhood family connection was associated with greater flourishing despite childhood adversity.
The HOPE Framework developed by one of the researchers of the 2019 study identifies these components as key to mitigating the effects of ACEs. Thinking about how we build these components within our systems and communities must be a part of our response to ACEs:
As a community, we especially have a role to play in working together with families to ensure children have these building blocks for healthy development. Our investment in children and youth demonstrates to them that they are valued and belong, creating the opportunity to heal and thrive.
Conversations in Iowa are increasing about how to respond to those who experience trauma, especially among groups of individuals who have historically been marginalized. Increasingly, we are recognizing that our role in the human services sector is not to save individuals from the problems they’re facing, but rather, to support alongside and help create the conditions for collective healing. We do not experience trauma, nor heal from trauma, in isolation.
Healing-Centered Engagement is a term coined by Dr. Shawn Ginwright that describes an approach to healing and well-being for young people of color and their adult allies. In the words of Shawn Ginwright: “A healing centered approach to addressing trauma requires a different question that moves beyond ‘what happened to you’ to ‘what’s right with you’ and views those exposed to trauma as agents in the creation of their own well-being rather than victims of traumatic events. Healing centered engagement is akin to the South African term ‘Ubuntu’ meaning that humanness is found through our interdependence, collective engagement and service to others.”
Healing-centered engagement focuses on healing as a holistic and collective experience created with empathy, honoring culture, and encouraging young people to dream and to advocate for change. It also recognizes the healing process professionals serving individuals with trauma need to also go through.
Sign up for an Iowa ACEs event on Healing-Centered Engagement with Dr. Shawn Ginwright on May 7, 2021: