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Russell County pilot program aims to help support children dealing with adverse childhood experiences

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

A pilot program launching in one rural Kentucky school district this summer aims to help schools better support children dealing with the violence, addiction and other trauma known as Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Nearly 27% of Kentucky children have experienced two or more so-called “ACEs” by the time they’re 17, according to a 2018 America’s Health Rankings report. The national average is less than 22%.

Adverse Childhood Experiences are associated with higher out-of-pocket medical costs and financial burdens in adulthood. (Photo from Adobe Stock, via PNS)

Dr. Joe Bargione is a psychologist who leads the “Bounce” program. He says there is mounting evidence that childhood trauma contributes to poor health outcomes later in life.

“The more Adverse Childhood Experiences a child has, the higher the likelihood of those negative health outcomes, depression, anxiety, suicide attempts,” says Bargione. “But also, there’s a link to the physical health – there’s an increase in heart disease, there’s an increase in cancer rates as adults; there’s an increase of diabetes.”

Bargione says adult life expectancy is 20 years lower for people who have had six or more Adverse Childhood Experiences.

The Louisville-based Bounce Coalition will work with the Lake Cumberland District Health Department to train Russell County teachers and staff, bus drivers and parents about childhood trauma and teach techniques to help students cope with stress. The-two year program, which begins in August, is funded by a grant from The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

A similar Bounce program was implemented in 2014 in Louisville’s urban school districts. There, researchers found the ACEs training reduced out-of-school suspensions for students, improved teacher retention and increased parent engagement.

Russell County school superintendent Michael Ford says he’s concerned about the well-being of his staff, working year-round to help children cope with mental health problems – which he says are on the rise.

“And another part of this is the self-care for school employees, so that we do not become so bogged down with the emotional needs of our students that we can still take care of ourselves, so we can take care of the kids,” says Ford.

Ford also points to reforms to the state’s criminal justice system that could help decrease the likelihood of Adverse Childhood Experiences for kids, such as the incarceration of a parent.

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