Children’s Trust hosted a peer learning session for its master trainers in adverse childhood experiences. The two-day discussion gave professionals specific tools on how to work better with individuals whose trauma history may not be known. Neil White, who tells the organization’s stories, covered the event.
Judy Cameron fully understands the negative impact that adverse childhood experiences, commonly known as ACEs, can have on people’s lives as they transition into adulthood.
As a neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, Cameron is well versed in the research that shows children who are exposed to trauma like physical and emotional abuse, divorce, substance use/misuse, domestic violence and mental illness are much more likely to become adults with health and social problems like depression, alcoholism, obesity, heart and liver disease, and decreased workplace performance.
“For the last 25 years, I’ve been out on the road talking to people like physicians, teachers, state legislators about how experiences change brain development. I just always did this as kind of my part in serving the public good,” Cameron said. “But a few years back we realized that while we’re getting the message to professionals, we’re doing a really bad job getting the message to everyday people. And people living in really adverse, stressed environments need the message the most.”
Spreading the message across the state
That’s a key goal of Children’s Trust, the child abuse prevention organization that leads the South Carolina ACE Initiative, which seeks to prevent childhood adversity across the state by bringing together a network of people committed to improving health and well-being in every community.
This initiative, funded by the BlueCross® BlueShield® of South Carolina Foundation, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, sends trainers across the state to talk to different groups about ACEs. The initiative also collects and shares ACE data, works to build a prevention planning framework, and promotes sound legislative policy to address ACEs in our communities. The group of more than 100 master trainers includes nonprofit professionals, social workers, health care providers, teachers, school administrators, parents, faith-based organization members, and policymakers.
Cameron, who holds a Ph.D. in physiology, served as the featured speaker for 40 of these master trainers at a two-day learning session hosted by Children’s Trust in October. As the creator of the Brain Architecture Game and a founding member of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, she shared her expertise and educational tools with the master trainers in the areas of neuroscience and brain development.
“The reason adversity really has a long-term impact is that the brain controls the entire body’s functions,” she said. “If you’ve experienced adversity when you’re young, that changes the architecture of the developing brain. Then you’ve changed your abilities for rest of your life, and you’ve changed your health for the rest of your life. We show how that happens and how those things really have that kind of lasting impact.”
Using science to provide understanding
TJ Rumler, a social worker and trauma-informed specialist for Greenville County Schools, sees the ramifications of children who have experienced adversity every day in the school system. He called Cameron’s presentation a powerful one.
“We consistently remind ourselves that our brains are wired for story more so than data and hard facts,” Rumler said. “She put that into practice, and she was able to teach very high-level brain science, neuroscience through the use of story and how that can impact specific children. I love how she was able to use that framework to teach.”
The ACE trainers assembled for the two days of training, which also included a presentation from Cara Thompson, coordinator of Family Intervention Services with Richland District Two. Attendees learned about Washington state-based Community Resilience Initiative’s ROLES curriculum. ROLES is an acronym that stands for recognize, observe, label, elect and solve, the actions needed to identify and respond to trauma.
“We wanted to provide additional learning around neuroscience so our trainers have the confidence to train communities across the state,” Michael Shirley, Children’s Trust community education manager, said. “We also wanted to give trainers another tool to answer the question, ‘What do we do now that we know about ACEs?’ We did that by providing training on the ROLES curriculum, which offers five evidence-based resilience strategies to help professionals work better with individuals whose trauma history may not be known.”
Knowledge helps families and communities thrive
These master trainers are working to reach as many people as possible in order to encourage them to take action in their own spheres of influence, whether that be education, health care, government, or nonprofits. This layering of action helps communities become more informed and build stronger resources with a larger goal of helping children and families thrive.
Lamikka Purvis, director of social work for Orangeburg-based Family Solutions of the Low Country, consistently puts ACE training into her organization’s efforts to reduce infant deaths and illnesses while improving the health of children, women and families in a rural five-county region.
“We can look at what has happened with them in their lives, and identify those adverse childhood experiences for them, then possibly help to prevent that same thing from occurring in the life of their children,” Purvis said. “That’s how it directly applies to the work that I do because I’ve used it so many times, not necessarily giving anybody an assessment, but just talking and looking at the situation that they’ve had to deal with, or the events that have happened in their lives when they were growing up, and then trying to help them to identify some ways to prevent those same things from trickling down to their children.”
Melinda Hartoin serves as the clinical outreach coordinator for Dorchester Children’s Advocacy Center, which is dedicated to creating communities where children and families live free from abuse and are able to reach their full potential. As an ACE trainer, she appreciated the different approaches that Cameron gave her to utilize when interacting with children and families in both therapies and group sessions. She finds a way to use her knowledge about ACEs in many aspects of her interactions.
“The core of my job is to go out and do a lot of trainings and educate the community,” Hartoin said. “But I somehow always bring ACEs up in what I do. Every training I’ll say, ‘There’s a really good training,’ and I’ll talk a little bit about (ACEs). I’ll give a little blurb on it and tell them I can give more detail about it in a bigger specific training if that’s something they’re interested in. But I always bring it up because I want it to be brought to light. I think it’s very important for them to have that correlation and understand what’s happening in a child’s life now can have a huge effect as an adult.”
For more information about ACE training, contact Michael Shirley of Children’s Trust at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 803-744-4039.