Protecting the Most Vulnerable

Photo of adult and child hands

In 2010, I had no idea that a routine professional development training would offer lessons about childhood trauma that would spark a passion and become a driving force in my career — first as a teacher and now as a nonprofit coordinator.

As preschool teacher in Anamosa, I completed the Stewards of Children training, which is designed to help adults prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.

I was shocked. While I had completed the brief mandatory reporter training that is required of teachers, it didn’t provide a full understanding of the disturbing reality of sexual abuse in society. They certainly didn’t cover child sexual abuse in college.

Between one in five and one in ten children will experience sexual abuse. I took those numbers back to my classroom, looked at the children’s innocent faces, and decided to be an advocate of sexual abuse prevention. Shortly after, I became a trained facilitator of Stewards of Children.

I began volunteering with our local child abuse prevention council, where I learned about the harsh reality many children face. Importantly, I learned about the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, conducted in the late 1990s, which revealed that childhood trauma, such as sexual abuse, is more common and has more serious long-term health effects than anyone ever thought.

Today, in my role as Youth Impact Coordinator with the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, I’m working with our staff and community partners to bring attention the issue of childhood trauma. While this work is still in the early stages, we envision a long-term goal of mobilizing resources to combat the effects of trauma — which can last a lifetime — among our region’s most vulnerable populations.

The scope of the problem

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are types of trauma that a child may experience before their 18th birthday. The ACE study included a survey with more than 17,000 members of the Kaiser Health Plan in San Diego and focused on 10 types of trauma: physical, sexual and psychological abuse; emotional and physical neglect; and instances of substance abuse, divorce, mental illness, domestic violence, and criminal behavior in the home.

Participants were asked to determine their ACE score by totaling how many types of trauma they had experienced. Participants’ scores were then compared to their health records and long-term health outcomes. The results revealed a significant correlation between childhood adversity and long-term health outcomes. The higher the ACE score, the more likely a person is to experience physical and mental health issues, engage in high-risk behaviors, experience addiction, and even die young.

The most shocking outcome of the study for many was the revelation that childhood trauma is common. ACEs data collected in Iowa from 2012 to 2014 showed that that 56 percent of Iowa adults reported experiencing at least one ACE. Nearly 15 percent reported four or more ACEs – a level of trauma at which the likelihood of negative health outcomes dramatically increases.

Regional solutions

Here at the Community Foundation, we are asking ourselves how we move forward with this information. We know children and adults in our community have experienced adversity that has the potential to impact school, work, health and relationships today and long into the future.

We ask:

  • Is our community aware of the prevalence of childhood trauma?
  • Is our community aware of the impact of trauma on children and adults?
  • Does our community have the resources and supports to mitigate the impact of childhood adversity?
  • Do all of our community members have access to those resources and supports?
  • Can we reduce the incidences of trauma?

We know our strength lies in our ability to convene many different individuals and organizations with a vested interest in this issue to develop a comprehensive strategy for tackling childhood trauma head-on. Along with many community partners, we are determining how we can address ACEs through our community initiatives, which focus on eliminating barriers to success at all stages of life.

Join us

We’ve already begun the conversation by hosting meetings among local nonprofits and service providers. In partnership with Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, the Dubuque Area Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and the United Way, we invite community partners to participate in our second meeting as we consider adverse childhood experiences, trauma informed care, and building resilience in our community.

January 24
1 to 3 p.m.
Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque
700 Locust St.

Email me to register

At the Community Foundation, we recognize that this isn’t just information that teachers and professionals who work with children need to understand. While ACEs often originate in early childhood, they have the potential to affect people at every stage of life. For us, this means broad community awareness is needed if we are going to develop comprehensive solutions.

Rachel Williams

Rachel Williams is the youth impact coordinator for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque.

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