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Adverse Childhood Experiences and Building Resilience

November 21, 2016

Keryn Bernard-Kriegl, MS, Executive Director, NH Children's Trust

More than 140 people attended NHPHA’s Team Up, Take Action conference last week to build on existing tools and evidence to bolster population health efforts in New Hampshire. I had the pleasure of co-presenting on Adverse Childhood Experiences and Resilience with Linda Douglas, M.S.Ed. from the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and Dr. Janessa Deleault from Riverbend Community Mental Health, Inc. Although the original Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study occurred 20 years ago, we are just beginning to implement public health strategies to prevent the occurrence and treat the consequences of toxic stress.

“There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study. Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment.” http://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/. There are many other adverse childhood experiences, and some of them are now being studied.

What the original study taught us was that when children experience toxic stress over a period of time, it changes their biology and puts them at risk for a variety of health consequences such as obesity, diabetes, depression, heart disease, stroke, cancer and broken bones. We know that more than half of the population has had at least one adverse childhood experience. We also know that the higher your ACE score, the greater your risk for health consequences.

Adverse Childhood Experiences are a public health issue that requires a public health response. In order to make significant progress in preventing the health consequences of toxic stress, New Hampshire needs strategies in the four social ecological domains. Public policies need to support services to parents battling addiction, mental illness, incarceration, domestic violence and parental abandonment. Communities need to have systems and norms that support health and wellbeing, such as parks and playgrounds, health centers and schools, employers and safety nets. Neighborhoods and families need to build trusting supportive relationships, and individuals need to increase their knowledge and skills to manage their histories and life’s challenges.

It's an exciting time to be working in public health. The “root causes” of so many health problems can be traced back to early childhood experiences. I’d like to invite you to learn more about preventing adverse childhood experiences and building resilience. New Hampshire Children’s Trust is hosting a conference on March 28 entitled: Resilient Communities: The Prevention Connection. More information can be found here.

In addition, there are several national leaders who have emerged to provide us with ongoing research and educational tools to help our public health system prevent and treat toxic stress. You can learn more about ACES at these websites:

Together, we can make a difference in the lives of New Hampshire children and families and improve the population health of our state.