IT TAKES A COMMUNITY
Despite their best intentions, some families struggle to meet their children’s needs. Others suffer the effects of trauma or violence for generations. These adverse childhood experiences (ACES), can have lifelong impact. These experiences are a predictor of economic, behavioral and health risks in adulthood, so early intervention is crucial. Recent research reveals that it is equally important to work with other family members at the same time. This multi-generational approach helps families build upon their strengths, rather than focusing on deficits. The results are powerful and lasting. Medica Foundation funds support organizations whose breakthrough work in this area is helping families get and stay stronger, healthier and more resilient.
CVIC received a grant to help improve the physical and mental health for children who have experienced trauma. Their efforts focused on enhancing relationships and building resilience by helping families in crisis through family education and connecting them to health care services, schooling and other essential services. This program helped women like Sherry* follow through on her brave decision to seek a healthier future for her family. Taking the First Step to Safety The violence Sherry endured at home was torture: threats to kill her, a hard fist leaving bruises across her body, and psychological abuse and control that left her feeling like a prisoner. Her children, Stacy*, just 9 years old, and Bobby*, 15, took it all in — and everything they saw and heard turned into chronic fear and anxiety. Sherry and her children had to leave in a rush to escape the violence and when they arrived at CVIC’s new shelter, Mary’s Place , they had nothing but the clothing on their back. Shelter staff provided them with the necessities: pajamas, toiletries, a change of clothes, warm meals and beds to sleep in. A family advocate sat down with Sherry to talk with her about her needs and where she wanted to start. She needed a job, her children needed help with school, and they all needed a place to live. They were starting from scratch and it was overwhelming. Finding your bearings takes time. Together, Sherry and her family advocate came up with a plan to prioritize and accomplish Sherry’s goals. Because her children were so impacted by the violence, Sherry wanted to start with them.
The advocate connected them with health care services and educated Sherry about the ways trauma affects children and parenting techniques that can help them heal. They found school social workers and counselors to support the kids. Sherry received gas vouchers to get the children to school and enrolled them in the summer lunch program to ensure hunger was not a problem. The family advocate worked one-on-one with Sherry’s daughter, talking about coping skills and practicing self-esteem activities, allowing her to focus on some hard issues that were troubling her at school. Eventually, she became more confident and began to smile again. Building a Foundation for Stability When Sherry was strong enough to branch out toward long- term stability, her advocate provided resources and support she used to find a job, and even helped her purchase clothing to fit her new job. Then they focused on housing. Sherry found an apartment she could afford, but had no dishes to eat from or beds to sleep in. The advocate made arrangements with a local consignment store that allowed Sherry to pick out furniture, and CVIC supporters provided other furnishings. When Sherry’s car broke down, jeopardizing her ability to get to and from work, the serendipitous gift of a car at that very time from a CVIC supporter provided a working vehicle. Sherry was overcome with gratitude. Today she, Stacy and Bobby are on their way to a healthy new life, one goal and one accomplishment at a time.
ACE Pyramid Mechanism by which adverse childhood experiences influence health and well-being through the lifespan.
Reducing Health Risks of Trauma Childhood exposure to violence and trauma is a serious public health concern that the Centers for Disease Control and leading researchers have studied for more than two decades. The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study in the late 1990s broke new ground in tracking the effects of childhood trauma on health throughout one’s lifespan. ACEs were found to have a profound negative effect on overall health and wellbeing, and were linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, social problems and early death. Since then, more than 30 states and the District of Columbia have continued to gather vital data on the medical effects of ACEs. This important body of work provides information our communities can use to help provide safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments for all children, improving their lifelong health and well-being. It helped to inform work of the Community Violence Intervention Center (CVIC) in Grand Forks, North Dakota to help families in rural and urban communities.
*Names changed for privacy.
Source : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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