by CHRIS ROGERS
Winonan Jennifer Monsos was at her a 20-year high school reunion when a boy from her class — now a middle-aged man — approached her. “You were the only person in high school who was nice to me, and I remember that and appreciate it,” she recalled him saying. She had no idea.
Today, Monsos is part of a local group of citizens and professionals working on the front lines of education, social work, and criminal justice who believe that research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) offers great promise for addressing deep-rooted problems in their fields. The group, called the ACEs Initiative, recently won a $20,000 local grant that will fund training for 30 people across the county to help spread awareness on the effects of trauma and ways to respond to the problem. The research comes with bad news — adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) contribute to poor health, low achievement, and risky behaviors in children and can affect them throughout their lives — and hopeful news, including evidence that supportive relationships can prevent or mitigate those negative effects. For Monsos, that moment at her high school reunion goes to show that even if it seems insignificant, kindness can have a big impact on people.
Based on a 1997 study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that has since been duplicated by public health departments in Minnesota and dozens of other states across the country, ACEs researchers analyzed 10 kinds of childhood trauma: physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; mental illness among family members; alcoholism or drug abuse among family members; divorce or separation of parents; domestic violence among parents; and incarceration of a family member. Their studies found that the more adverse experiences someone has as a child, the more likely they are to suffer from a range of problems: diabetes, depression, suicide, heart disease, asthma, substance abuse, domestic violence, and poor performance in school. Researchers also described ACEs as a sort of hereditary disease — parents' own childhood trauma could make them more likely to abuse drugs, for example, which could create traumatic events for their children. However, researchers also found that not everyone who experienced many traumatic events suffers all of the bad effects. Supportive relationships and coping skills can help children or adults diffuse the effects of trauma. By preventing trauma and promoting resiliency in the face of it, “we can reliably expect a reduction in many ACE-related health and social problems,” the Minnesota Department of Health wrote in a 2011 report.
After being trained by the Georgia-based ACE Interface organization, Winona State University (WSU) professor Ruth Charles has been one of the leading local promoters of the information. Over the last few years, Charles talked to as many groups as possible about ACEs — local schools, Rotary Club, the Learning Club, the Winona County Board, Frozen River Film Festival attendees — but she is just one person. This fall she hopes to get around 30 reinforcements from across the county.
A $20,000 local grant will send 30 people to ACE Interface trainings in August. Those people will in turn be asked to lead presentations and discussions about ACEs throughout the area. The ACEs Initiative is currently accepting applications for the training. It plans to include at least 10 representatives from the local Department of Corrections office; Winona Area, Lewiston-Altura, and St. Charles public schools; Winona Park and Recreation, and children’s mental health care providers.
“What we’re trying to do is create more of a self-healing community,” Charles said. “If a child has been through a traumatic event … we want to make sure that people all understand what’s happening.”
Beyond awareness, Charles continued, “How can we have a better approach so that they are not continually impacted by this trauma and move forward? There is no ABC. That’s the hard part.”
Some community members have focused on different approaches to school discipline and children’s mental health or support for mentorship programs and parenting outreach and education as potential strategies for preventing and mitigating ACEs.
The $20,000 grant came from the Winona County Family and Children’s Mental Health Collaborative, a group made up of representatives from Winona County, the local Department of Corrections office; Winona Area, Lewiston-Altura, and St. Charles public schools; Winona Park and Recreation; Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center; and the Family and Children’s Center. A board of representatives from those agencies receives federal funding through a program called the local collaborative time study (LCTS) for use on children and families’ mental health and wellbeing. According to Winona Area Public Schools Community Education Director Margaret Schild, who administers the LCTS programs, the collaborative board currently gets around $160,000 per year in LCTS funds and spends much of that money on in-school counselors and school supplies for low-income families. The $20,000 grant for ACEs training came from that funding.
Asked about the value of getting more local people trained on giving ACEs presentations, Schild said, “The more the community is aware of the impact it has, the better.”
People interested in applying to take part in the ACE Interface training may contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and application forms. The training is slated to be held on August 2-3 somewhere in Winona County. The final deadline for applications is June 15, 2017, but Charles encouraged applicants to submit their information as soon as possible.