You may have been hearing the phrase “trauma-informed care” a lot more recently and there are good reasons for that. As the landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study from 1997 receives more and more attention, Oklahomans, from all walks of life and professions, are better understanding the social, emotional and cognitive damage already wrought on so many of our children. That damage, as the study reveals, manifests itself in challenging behavioral patterns in our children and poor health outcomes in our adults.
ACEs are stressful or traumatic events that children experience, from physical and emotional abuse to divorce and parental incarceration. The research shows that they represent significant risk factors for substance abuse and addiction disorders (from alcohol to opioids). Not coincidentally, Oklahoma ranks near the top in both categories: we are one of three states with the highest ACE scores for children age 0-5 (National Survey of Children’s Health, 2016) and we rank among the top eight states in death rates due to drug overdose, suicide and liver disease (Commonwealth Fund, 2016).
The Potts Family Foundation manages a two-year-old initiative called the Oklahoma Early Childhood Coalition. This statewide initiative is comprised of over 60 allied organizations, 40 state legislators and more than 60 individuals who are members of our Oklahoma Champions for Early Opportunities. Together, we are shining a light on not just the problems this state faces — and they are enormous — but the solutions to help mitigate and reverse the damages already present. The foundation’s main early childhood demographic is families with children, pre-birth to age 5. Our time, talent and treasure is directed to improving the conditions of that demographic across the state.
Sixteen months ago, the foundation purchased the right to show the film “Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope.” The one-hour film highlights the findings of the original ACEs study, but also shares some of the cutting-edge science and field-tested therapies helping children overcome some of the toxic experiences from their past.
One year ago — on Oct. 12 — we had our first formal, public showing at Rose State College, where over 600 people viewed the film. This Oct. 1, the State Department of Education became the 70th audience to view this film, with over 150 in attendance. In this past year, PFF has coordinated and collaborated with organizations and communities across the state to show the film and to encourage local communities to become more trauma-informed, from educators and health personnel to law enforcement and faith-based leaders. We are proud to say that over 4,800 Oklahomans have viewed the film, and their reactions have been resoundingly positive.
We want to encourage communities across the state to incorporate resilience-building practices across all their local systems. We need to be building adult capabilities to improve child outcomes. As Denis Waitley, a prominent motivational speaker, once remarked: There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they are or to accept the responsibility for changing them. We subscribe to the latter choice and hope you will join us and the thousands of Oklahomans already working toward a brighter and healthier future for our children and their parents.
Robert Block is Potts Family Foundation chairman-elect and an emeritus professor of pediatrics and immediate past Daniel C. Plunket Chair in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine in Tulsa.