The US Congressional Committee on Oversight and Reform held a groundbreaking hearing on July 11, 2019, to investigate childhood trauma in America. This hearing was called - Identifying, Preventing, and Treating Childhood Trauma: A Pervasive Public Health Issue that Needs Greater Federal Attention. The purpose of this hearing was to hear directly from adult trauma survivors and experts in medical and public health professions as well as government officials to examine the lasting and devastating consequences of childhood trauma and the severely deficient response by the federal government to this critical and urgent crisis. The committee initially had an adult trauma survivor panel of witnesses who discussed their personal experiences of trauma. Also, each panelist shared their advocacy roles in healing and the prevention of trauma. The second panel of witnesses were experts that discussed prevalence of adverse childhood experiences and trauma in the US and the very deficient current federal response to treat victims and prevent childhood trauma.

In the past 20 years of research on childhood trauma since the original CDC and Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, university researchers throughout the world, in clinics, schools, prisons and other settings have documented an irrefutable link between childhood adverse experiences and poor outcomes for health, learning, relationships, and executive function. The ACEs Study clearly showed that childhood trauma can dramatically increase the likelihood of negative health outcomes for adults. While the ACEs definition has been expanded, the original ACEs Study researchers reported on 10 childhood experiences: physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; mental illness, incarcerated relative, violence against mother, substance abuse, and divorce.

Currently, it is a widely accepted belief that the ACEs epidemic is the No. 1 public health problem facing us today, and the major reason why many children struggle in school and life. Epidemiologic studies estimate almost half all US children have suffered with ACEs, ranging from 37.2% to 55.0% (2016-17 National survey of Children’s Health Initiative (NSCHI) Data Query). And 2/3 of adults have been exposed to ACEs in the US (Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey 2011-2014). ACEs are particularly serious in Oklahoma because we are in the top prevalence rate among states for childhood trauma as one in six children here already have endured at least 3 ACEs (as reported in 2014 by Child Trends). Recent data reported in Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative 2016-17 NSCHI as seen in the Charts and table below, Oklahoma has a significantly higher percentage of children experiencing trauma, i.e. in the 2+ ACEs category OK children were 9% higher compared to children in the US exposed to 2+ ACEs.

Overall, ACEs have a dose-response effect on increasing the risk of children having variety of health problems. *Children had an increase in chronic health conditions above what is considered routine amount or type of health care services as the number of ACEs they experienced increased (Bethell, et.al ACEs: Assessing the Impact on Health and School 2014). Approximately 20% of youth age 12-17 with two or more ACEs have some type of emotional, developmental or behavioral problem.

A common theme reported at the congressional hearing by the victim panelist was the critical positive impact a kind teacher, neighbor or other community adult made in their lives. Instead of asking “what’s wrong with them they ask what happened to them.” The primary protective factor that can reduce or buffer the effects of adverse experiences, stress or trauma is at least one healthy relationship with an encouraging adult. This type of stable nurturing relationship is important for all children to develop resilience but critical for a victim of childhood trauma. Other critical solutions discussed at the congressional hearing were the need for community-based help. The expert panel of witnesses unanimously agreed that until communities engaged in driving change and working with systems who are receptive to their ideas and needs, we won’t have a sustainable and equitable system. The Resilient Payne County organization was established to drive change and work collaboratively with systems in our county. RPC is a group of citizen volunteers whose vision is to reduce the number of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and create a compassionate and resilient community where children and families thrive.

Almost daily in the Stillwater News Press you read about children that have suffered childhood trauma such as abuse, neglect, poverty and witness to domestic violence which is just part of the adversity children in our county deal with daily. Payne County is blessed with exceptional hope-based nonprofits and state agencies personnel that serve to help families in need. But there are social barriers and many needs especially early intervention services that are deficient. A cross-cutting policy, laws and support response is needed to bring these intervention programs and needs into alignment with the science of human development and well-being.

Annette Jacobi, executive Director of Oklahoma Commissions of Children and Youth will be a speaking on Reducing Adverse Childhood Experiences in Oklahoma at the July 24 RPC Summer Community Seminar at Meridian Technology Center. Jacobi is the current co-chair of the multidiscipline OK Trauma Informed Task Force that serves to establish what trauma informed care standards should be in all aspects of our state agencies and departments. Additionally, Mr. Clayton Lodes, President and CCO of First National Bank will be speaking on Creating a Trauma Sensitive Culture in the Workplace. Mr. Lodes serves as a board member of Ardmore Behavioral Health Collaborative. He also presented at the National ACES Conference in 2018 and several other trauma informed conferences across the US in 2019. The public is invited Wednesday, 8:30-10:30 a.m. to Meridian Technology Center Lecture Hall E-129. Registration is open to all and at no charge. For more details, please contact Carolynn MacAllister at rpc17ok@gmail.com.