SAC Focus Topic: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

The State Advisory Council (SAC) has chosen to address trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) through a focus on protective factors and social/emotional wellness as one of their priority topics during their September 2017 meeting for the upcoming fiscal year.

During the January 2018 SAC meeting, the Council was asked to sink its teeth into this topic in order to make policy recommendations down the road.

This portion of the meeting started with an overview presentation on existing efforts related to this issue in Vermont.

  • The council reviewed BBF’s recent report, How Are Vermont’s Young Children & Families? Family & Social Relationships chapter, which highlights the impact of multi-generational strategies to address ACEs and includes a description of existing efforts that support social and emotional wellness and strengthen protective factors in families.
  • Senator Ginny Lyons provided an overview of the Act 43 workgroup, established to review efforts across the state to address trauma in order to develop a systematic approach addressing ACEs.
  • Kathy Hentcy and Daniela Caserta shared information about Building Flourishing Communities: A statewide public health approach to spreading information about the NEAR sciences (neurobiology, epigenetics, ACEs, and resilience). As the title of the initiative suggests, they are trying to flip the conversation from the negative impacts of trauma, to the positive impacts of creating communities where children and families can thrive.
  • Amy Bielawski-Branch shared information about a trauma-informed training for caregivers of foster, kin, and adopted children. A major positive outcome they’ve seen thus far is that caregivers are reporting a greater sense of efficacy in parenting and a decrease in challenging behaviors from the children in their care.
  • Becky Millard rounded out the presentation by sharing how early childhood professionals across the state have been asking for resources and trainings to support children experiencing trauma. Trainings on these topics will be available this year through the new North Lights Professional Development system at CCV.

The SAC then broke into small groups, that included all meeting attendees, to discuss what action the SAC or a sub-committee make take in addressing ACEs and promoting resiliency and protective factors. One member of each group then reported out their discussions as follows:

  • Group 1: This group reported on the need to understand how to measure whether we’re making progress on addressing ACEs and trauma and/or building resiliency in both the short and long terms. They also saw the need to get people using the same messaging across sectors. For example: Can doctors and early care and learning professionals all use a common language when talking to families about these issues? The group suggested that the SAC or a sub-committee develop a glossary of terms to determine how we want to talk about this issue moving forward.
  • Group 2: This group discussed the need to capture and connect the many initiatives that are already in place. There are so many working groups and initiatives going on and there is a need to strengthen the connective tissue and to articulate the relationship between different efforts. This group also discussed developing and using common terminology across sectors and the desire to make sure strategies are linked. Performing an inventory of what has worked well in the past and how we can do more of the same work in the future would also be beneficial. This group suggested that the SAC try to identify/build upon an existing group that could take on this work. 
  • Group 3: This group discussed the need to get information directly from kids and families instead of making assumptions about their needs and care. Getting this first-hand data would be powerful moving forward. Remembering that different organizations have different goals and approaches to this work can help build bridges as well. For example, in the school system the child, and not the parent, is the primary client, and they use the language of Youth Thrive, whereas Building Flourishing Communities is looking at whole communities. As we better understand one another’s goals, practices, language, and frameworks, we can better partner together and collaborate across sectors. There is a lot of commonality between different models/frameworks and we can help make this explicit for partners.
  • Group 4: This group reported the importance of not minimizing concrete supports as a protective factor for families, and that the ability to connect families to those supports is inconsistent, and needs to be systematized. We can continue to expand points of entry and focus on more family-friendly delivery. This group also felt that data on families not accessing services who need them would be helpful, though difficult. It is critical to view parents and families as equal stakeholders in this work.

After the group report-outs, SAC members were invited to offer final thoughts for BBF to keep to in mind as we move forward with this work. Emily Merrill, a parent and at-large member of the SAC, affirmed that using common language across settings would help to involve parents in their own treatment in a more inviting way. This is a very delicate conversation for families, so thinking about ways to be inclusive, open, safe, and respectful is important to keep in mind.

Other thoughts from SAC members included:

  • Working toward the same message in medical home, education setting, and home visiting.
  • Using the collaboration continuum to better understand our goals for this work. Where are we at currently and where to we want to go? Are we just trying to create a better understanding of one another’s work? Shifting and aligning practices? Integrating services? If this is explicit, it will be easier to measure our success in this work.
  • Whatever language/framework we unify around, embedding it in existing tools like STARs, professional development, etc.
  • We should shift our conversation from what we are doing to treat families to what we are doing to support families to thrive.

After this report-out, Sarah Squirrell, Executive Director of BBF said that BBF will synthesize this information, maintain leadership from the SAC, and discuss next steps on how to develop a team to move this work forward. She also asked if any SAC members would be interested in joining, and many council members shared that they would like to volunteer their time.

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