As Executive Director of Wynona’s House Child Advocacy Center, I saw firsthand the prevalence and pain of bad things happening to our most vulnerable children. Each year, hundreds of children would come to us because they suffered sexual or physical abuse or were exposed to horrific acts of domestic violence.
Children like Maria, who witnessed her mother dying in a pool of blood on the bathroom floor. Her boyfriend stabbed her as she brushed her teeth before walking Maria to kindergarten.
Yet through all this hardship, I also saw firsthand the capacity of children to heal when equipped with the right tools to cope with and transcend their pain. It is with hope in this capacity that Newark leaders are taking important steps to help these children.
Research over the last two decades confirms that children carry the effects of childhood hardship and violence well into adulthood. The challenges they face in school, life and ultimately, the state of their health, are often the symptoms of toxic stress that leads to long-term changes in the brain and body. Exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) puts children at higher risk for learning difficulties, emotional problems, developmental issues and long-term health problems.
Here in Newark, a diverse body of stakeholders is coalescing to create a trauma-informed vision and implementation plan for the City.
Part of the “Believe in a Healthy Newark” initiative, university faculty, researchers and clinicians, as well as advocates and other organizations are uniting to identify best practices related to preventing and treating ACEs and trauma and to implement and share these practices. The work is part of the social network “ACEs Connection” www.acesconnection.com where members share information, explore resources and access tools.
In the end, we seek to develop interventions that can help children like Maria and to provide emotional and behavioral interventions for adults who experienced ACEs.
A global movement is afoot toward recognizing the impact of adverse childhood experiences in shaping adult behavior and health, and reforming all communities and institutions — from schools to prisons to hospitals and churches — to help heal and develop resilience. The alternative is to continue to traumatize already traumatized people.