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Update from California Conference of Local Health Officers Adverse Childhood Events Conference


Research linking the incidence of childhood traumatic experiences and poor health outcomes later in life is well documented in the medical community. In a large 1997 study known as the ACEs study (for Adverse Childhood Experiences), researchers found that childhood abuse and neglect leads to poor health, running the gamut from increased risk factors such as smoking and drug use to an increased chance of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The Spring meeting of the California Conference of Local Health Officers in early May both focused on the medical establishment’s embrace of this research and grappled with how to fold an understanding of ACEs into medical practice through treatment and prevention. Most relevantly for the Community Collaboration for Children’s Success initiative, the group also discussed community trauma, the idea that communities can experience trauma through neglect, disinvestment and systemic violence. Presenters Zea Malawa from the San Francisco Bayview Child Health Center and Flojaune Cofer from Public Health Advocates shared the importance of the following in understanding, addressing and preventing community trauma.

1. Recognize that poverty and racism cause complex trauma
As young people witness dehumanizing and violent police interactions, experience racial bias and anticipate possible family separation through immigration enforcement, they experience vicarious trauma. We need data on the effects of these conditions on children’s stress and overall health.

2. Change the frame​
Youth who have grown up in traumatic conditions aren’t “bad kids”. Adaptation to community trauma often leads young people to adjust in ways society recognizes as disruptive. Understanding that behavior as proportional and responsive is key to understanding trauma.

3. Amplify protective factors
Communities that experience trauma also hold strong resilience and protective factors. Understanding and amplifying these assets builds community strength and values community resilience.

4. Respond and prevent community trauma
Responding to the symptoms of community trauma must take into account the origin of trauma. Community healing, restorative discipline, building relationships and community cohesion, and preparing thoughtfully for emergencies helps prevent further traumatization.

Project staff will continue work to bring this understanding to the CCCS project as it moves forward.