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New initiative aims to change the trajectory for children exposed to adverse childhood experiences

By Mary Kuhlman
Public News Service

Children exposed to traumatizing events can suffer physically and emotionally as they grow. And a special initiative in Kentucky is working to help change the trajectory for these youth.

Adverse childhood experiences, also known as “ACEs,” include witnessing violence or domestic abuse, the death of a parent, and poverty. Dr. David Finke is co-chair of the BOUNCE Coalition, which recently completed training for teachers and adults in the Louisville public schools on how to better address the symptoms of ACEs.

Traumatic events experienced by children can haunt people as adults. (From Free-Photos/Pixabay)

“We arm them with the knowledge of how adverse childhood experiences impact individuals behaviors and then start to look at better approaches to mitigate some of the effects of trauma in real time,” Finke said; “because what we really are focused on is building resiliency in our youth and in our system.”

In Kentucky, 26 percent of children ages 17 and younger have experienced at least two adverse childhood experiences. Finke said adults who report four or more ACEs are more likely to experience depression, heart disease, diabetes and other physical and mental health risks. And those with six or more live, on average, 20 years less than others without any.

Finke said building awareness of adverse childhood experiences helps create a better environment for children to grow. And he said the coalition has seen positive results in their work because adults are learning how to better understand what drives a child’s behavior.

“We’ve seen an improvement in kids’ perceptions of the school environment. We’ve seen an increase in the youth’s perception of having a significant adult within the school,” he said. “And that’s important because having a key individual that you can go to in a time of trouble is an important factor in building resiliency.”

The BOUNCE coalition is partly funded by a grant from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, and Finke said their work in Louisville is evolving as a state model for addressing ACEs. An important element, he added, is examining the underlying factors such as economic hardship.

“The more that we can address some of those social determinants of health early on within our state, the better able we are to deal with some of the long-term quality of life and really economic issues that continue to drain our state,” Finke said.

The most common reported ACE is physical abuse, followed by household substance abuse and parental separation or divorce.

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