ACEs Prevention a Priority for Rome-Floyd Child Advocates

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LaDonna Collins, executive director of the Floyd County Commission on Children and Youth, shares the value of community work with students at Shorter University’s Ledbetter College of Business.

by Olivia Gunn Special to the Rome News-Tribune

In recent years, Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, has become a much more prevalent phrase.

Studies have shown how childhood trauma not only affects emotional and mental health, but physiological health as well.

“Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences could potentially reduce a large number of health conditions,” according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. “For example, up to 1.9 million cases of heart disease and 21 million cases of depression could have been potentially avoided by preventing ACEs.”

Understanding ACEs and how to prevent them are key components in seeing communities thrive, said LaDonna Collins, executive director of the Rome-Floyd County Commission on Children and Youth.

Collins has been working to educate our local community on ACEs through a program called Connections Matter.

The two-hour course covers what Adverse Childhood Experiences are, the prolonged effects they have throughout life, how to help prevent them from occurring, and the importance of community-based connections.

“I learned about ACEs through the Connections Matter training that I completed in early 2020,” she said.

The program was introduced as a way to provide solutions and aid to problems Rome and Floyd County are facing.

“At one point in time, Rome and Floyd County had one of the highest cases of substantiated child abuse and neglect in the state of Georgia,” Collins explained.

So, through a relationship formed with Georgia Family Connection Partnership and the state’s Division of Family and Children’s Services, the Floyd Family Support Strategy Team was created.

“The Family Support Strategy Team held training sessions at our quarterly meetings, and one of the first courses I took part in was the Connections Matter training. The information was astounding,” Collins said.

Part of the training focused on how trauma affects the brain and the brain’s ability to function properly.

“Your brain does not distinguish between stress and toxic stress,” Collins said.

Toxic stress from ACEs can change brain development and affect such things as attention, decision-making, learning, and response to stress, the CDC states.

There are three categories of ACEs: abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. Studies have found that the more ACEs a person has been exposed to, the more likely that person will have behavioral, mental, and physical health problems throughout life.

“Typically, ACEs are not solo,” Collins said, “There is an 87% chance that if you have one ACE, you have two or more. And the more ACEs that you have, the more likely that you are to experience health problems, to have absenteeism at work, and to experience mental health issues.”

The most prevalent concern is that ACEs often go unrecognized and continue to get passed down from generation to generation.

Collins said people learn from adverse experiences, just as they do from positive ones. If they go on unaware that an experience was adverse, they will pass on what they learned from it to their children.

“That’s how it becomes generational, and that is why it is so important to educate ourselves on ACEs and on what our own experiences have been,” she said. “Even if someone can identify an ACE in themselves, then they will be able to go back and help their child. And that child will be able to help their child — and that generational gap will be filled.”

Some may assume that underprivileged individuals see the most ACEs. This is not the case.

“The people that made up the first Kaiser Permanente ACEs study were middle class, Caucasian adults,” Collins said.

The study shows that traumatic experiences happen to everyone.

“ACEs can have occurred from simply witnessing or hearing about an event, not only from being directly involved,” she explained. “Now racism has been added to the list of ACEs. Cultural neglect and discrimination are recognized as traumatic experiences.”

According to the CDC, ACEs are common. Their website states, “About 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported that they had experienced at least one type of ACE, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs.”

The main goal of Connections Matter is to educate on childhood trauma in an effort to prevent it all together.

For those who have experienced childhood trauma, the course will help improve resiliency. For community leaders, it will increase awareness and enhance their efforts in dealing with root issues and facilitating best practices.

“We need to have our community be aware of these ACEs so that we can stop the cycle from the beginning,” Collins said. “Everything that we are working to achieve starts with one person in their home, a community provider, or a concerned citizen.”

Collins became a Connections Matter Trainer of the Trainer in October of 2020, and since then has taught several sessions to different organizations.

“I am always happy to provide this training for interested groups or individuals in our community, and I am hoping to reach more and more,” she said. “It is typically an in-person training, but right now it is virtual.”

Johns Hopkins University found seven Protective Childhood Experiences that were linked to improved mental health in adults. These came as the result of a 2019 study in which 6,188 adults were surveyed.

They are as follows:

  • Ability to talk with family about feelings.
  • Felt experience that family is supportive in difficult times.
  • Enjoyment in participation in community traditions.
  • Feeling of belonging in high school.
  • Feeling of being supported by friends.
  • Having at least two nonparent adults who genuinely care.
  • Feeling safe and protected by an adult at home.

“So many health issues arise with ACEs, but the important thing to know is that ACEs can be prevented,” Collins said.

Handle with Care

Connections Matter is not the only program available to help in the fight against Adverse Childhood Experiences.

“A piece that I learned about through my Connections Matter training, that I am working to bring to Rome, is Handle With Care,” Collins said.

The program teaches school personnel when a student needs to be “handled with care” after having experienced something traumatic.

“A student who has had an adverse experience may need to be given more time to complete assignments or may need to be provided extra emotional support at school,” Collins said.

She’s working to inform schools and local law enforcement agencies about the program.

“Our police officers would be the ones who notify our schools and let them know that there is a ‘Handle With Care’ situation, without disclosing personal details,” she said. “The school would choose a Handle With Care coordinator who would be the point of contact with our law enforcement agencies.”

Collins believes that individual awareness will increase community awareness. She said she knows that prevention is possible and she’s working to make that happen.

“Revelations, resources, and relationships help develop a healthier you and a healthier community,” says Collins.

Anyone interested in Connections Matter training may email Collins at [email protected] or call 706-844-4952.

Read the story on northwestgeorgianews.com.