A Second Chance for Victims of Childhood Trauma
by Vervia Gabriel and Trisha Broughton, Mountain Loop exPress Staff
A heart broken, a soul wounded, a life at risk — each, possibly the result of childhood trauma. Parental abandonment, neglect, domestic violence, divorce, addiction, incarceration, homelessness or hunger can far too often damage a child for life.
Studied by professionals, neurosurgeons and scientists, we are now more able to understand the syndrome known as ACEs — Adverse Childhood Experiences. With this knowledge, intervention and hope is within reach.
In an effort to educate those charged with the responsibility of directing the lives of our young people, the Lake Stevens and Granite Falls Family Support Centers sponsored a training on youth support services for community members and school staff on April 9th. The event was held at the Granite Falls High School PAC, and although 80 people were pre-registered, a teacher’s union meeting kept most school staff from attending this important training.
Youth Coalition President Allyson Nelson and Coalition President Heidi Hutchins started the training with an activity to show how cronic, traumatic experiences experiences can scar the heart. Kathleen Friend, Lake Stevens Family Center Manager, introduced the training, saying she wanted participants to leave feeling empowered to make a difference in the lives of our kids.
Adverse Childhood Experiences:
Shannon Torres, manager of both support centers, explained the research on the devastating effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences. ACEs are stressful or traumatic experiences, including abuse, neglect and a range of household dysfunctions such as witnessing domestic violence, or growing up with substance abuse, mental illness, parental discord, or crime in the home.
When children are exposed to chronic stressful events, neurodevelopment can be disrupted. Disruption in early development of the nervous system may impede a child’s ability to cope with negative or disruptive emotions and contribute to emotional and cognitive impairment. Over time, and often during adolescence, the child adopts coping mechanisms, such as substance use. Eventually, this contributes to disease, disability and social problems, as well as premature mortality.
Participants were asked to find their own ACEs score by answering the critical ten questions identified by researchers as leading to problems later in life. Torres showed a chart of incidents in populations with a higher ACEs scores. The chart shows the increasing impact per 100 people of smoking, drinking, IV drug use, heart disease and suicide attempts with higher ACEs scores.
Researchers found that a child cannot handle more than twenty minutes of sustained stress before the brain chemistry is impacted negatively during critical neurodevelopmental stages. Torres said the impact of ACEs can be mitigated somewhat through good nutrition, emotional support and other health restoring activities later in life. Adults acknowledging their experiences and seeking help can overcome the impact. Torres encouraged participants to disrupt the cycle of ACEs by trying to understand why a young person acts out and talking about issues rather than punishing.
Following the ACEs training, Julio Cortez of the Cocoon House updated participants on their growing services. Cortez said they focus on prevention of problems with youth by working with parents and teens together. He described the parent support and training programs available to the community.
Cocoon House continues to have emergency shelters in Everett and Monroe for crisis situations, where teens can stay up to 14 days. Teens in emergency shelters must follow strict rules and attend school. Case managers work with the tens and their parents to get them back home. Mental health services and life skill training is available.
Cortez described new services Cocoon House has added. A maternal group home has been added in Arlington for up to five teen mothers. The teen mothers are connected to services and work with little Red School House to learn parenting skills. A new outreach drop-in center is available in Everett with many services to provide for the daily needs of homeless or troubled youth. Four geographical advocates have been added to help find resources throughout Snohomish County. Finally, they have become a recognized “Nation Safe Place” provider with partners in the community available to provide safe places to get help. These are designated with a triangle logo to designate their participation in the program. Cocoon House is now training with kids and businesses on this program. See website for more information (www.cocoonhouse.org)
The final part of the training was on Developmental Assets. Marysville School District Athletic Director Greg Erickson made the entertaining and inspirational presentation on the 40 Assets kids need to be happy and healthy. Erickson said it is all about changing the lens through which we view kids. He explained that we need to approach kids differently and treat them like we want to be treated. Intentionally recognizing and empowering kids leads to much more positive interactions and outcomes, according to Erickson. He challenged everyone to “look for the button to turn a kid on positively.” He cited the volunteer work of the Arlington and Darrington students at the site of the Oso mudslide and the positive impact it had on them to make a positive difference in the lives of others. He encouraged everyone to look for ways to honor kids for who they are and build on it; to create a chain of single forever moments with the kids in our lives.