Friday, April 12, 2019 marked an exciting, auspicious, and perhaps pivotal day in the history of Monroe County, Indiana. That’s a lot of adjectives—and pressure—to pile onto just another glorious spring day in Bloomington. But I think many folks who virtually congregate on a site that supports communities implementing trauma-informed and resilience-building practices grounded in ACEs science would agree that a county’s first-ever ACEs conference deserves a little ballyhoo.
But this ACEs conference didn’t stop at being the first-ever in Monroe County. Conference attendance surpassed expectations of the Monroe County Systems of Care, the event’s organizer. I can attest to the madding crowds that descended on the Monroe County Convention Center that morning for Faces of ACEs. On my way to the conference, I was running a bit late, grumbling about what seemed to be unusually heavy traffic for 8:45 a.m. As I approached the convention parking lot, every single car in front of me—the very ones I’d been complaining to myself about—turned into it. If my mascara was smeared by the time I crossed the convention center threshold, it was the wind that made my eyes water. Yeah, that’s it—the wind. All told, more than 300 attendees, presenters, and exhibitors packed the house.
The conference opened with a welcome to everyone and introductions of Monroe County Systems of Care conference committee members— Mary Balle, PMHCNS-BC, RN, a pediatric nurse; Mindi Wisker-Tindall, LMHC, Systems of Care Coordinator and Wraparound Team Lead for Centerstone of Indiana; Michele Simms, MSN, BA, RNC, a pediatric case manager; Elizabeth Bullock, Monroe County Director of the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS); and Amanda Stroud, a family case manager with Indiana DCS.
The opening speaker, Honorable Judge Stephen R. Galvin of the Monroe Circuit Court Division VII and a 38-year veteran of the court system, recounted the evolution of juvenile justice in Monroe County. In the 1980s, jailing juveniles was par for the course; over the decades, thanks in great part to now-retired Judge Viola Taliaferro’s refusal to jail juveniles because she believed the experience would further traumatize the youths, a trauma-informed approach to juvenile justice has become the norm.
Next, ACEs Connection’s own Ingrid Cockhren took the podium as keynote speaker. Cockhren’s address, titled “What’s Next: The Ecology of ACEs”, examined the ecology of adverse childhood experiences and described the role of environments in promoting or diminishing resilience. Cockhren cautioned attendees that tackling the ACEs epidemic would necessitate facing uncomfortable systemic realities, such as racism, equity in distribution of community resources, and ensuring that their teams were composed of a truly diverse mix of contributors.
The rest of the day was chock-full of breakout sessions. I attended Therapeutic Treatment for Trauma, a panel discussion on Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), an evidence-based therapy approach for helping clients process traumatic events. The four panelists, Stephanie Turpin, LMHC; Elisa Duncan, LMHC, LMFT; Jacki Jordan, MSW, LCSW, M.Ed.; and Delyn Kazdan, M.Ed., LMHC, NCC, are all mental health counselors or therapists practicing in the Bloomington, Indiana, area. The panelists answered questions from the moderator and attendees about best practices in and the efficacy of EMDR for trauma, particularly for clients with a history of ACEs.
John Keesler, PhD, LMSW, Assistant Professor at Indiana University Bloomington School of Social Work, presented It’s Not Only Clients—Recognition and Responding to Adversity in the Workforce. Dr. Keesler discussed the implications of a history of adverse childhood experiences among providers of social services and the all-too-common resistance to implementing a trauma-informed approach to client services.
Daisy Schoen and Kymberlee Blackford, both Crisis Intervention Specialists with Middle Way House, presented Music as a Coping Mechanism for Children and Adolescents with ACEs. Schoen and Blackford explained how music therapy can be integrated into self-care regimens, especially for young people with ACEs.
The fourth session I was present at not as an attendee but as a panelist. The Assuming ACEs panel, Chelsa Murrell, MS, BSN, RN, the Quality & Patient Safety Manager at Indiana University Health Bloomington; Elaine Guinn, former director of New Hope for Families; Debra Morrow, Director of Middle Way House, and myself together spoke about our experiences of having had ACEs, what has aided in our resilience from those ACEs, and how our ACEs histories have affected our personal and professional lives.
Other breakout session topics included ACEs scores and referrals on obstetric patients during the first trimester; early childhood adversity and Dr. Bruce Perry’s neurosequential model in education; the 2019 State of the Child; computer adaptive tests in assessing behavioral health problems, protective factors in helping families overcome trauma; ACEs in foster care, and the Monroe County Community School Corporation’s Social and Emotional Learning Initiative (SEL).
Faces of ACEs was not over when the final session wrapped up on Friday afternoon, though. The next day, April 13, Monroe County Systems of Care held the Faces of ACEs Community Expo at the Fairview Elementary School gymnasium. This free expo invited all to learn about ACEs and how to build resilience individually and as a community. Local community partners and students from the Indiana University School of Social Work offered hands-on opportunities for children and their parents to learn coping skills and easy ways to handle anxiety and stress. Kids could create a “coping skills box” to take home with them. And representatives of social services agencies were on site to share information about local resources and services.
While it’s exciting and oh-so-promising for Monroe County that with the Faces of ACEs conference and expo the ribbon has been cut for increased awareness and commitment to ACEs healing and prevention by all, some of the best news to come out of the weekend is that planning has already begun for next year’s conference. Perhaps with additional Faces of ACEs efforts, in time there will be fewer faces of ACEs and more faces of healing, resilience, and thriving. In the meantime, welcome to the ACEs movement fold, Monroe County, Indiana.
Image: Courtesy of Monroe County Systems of Care/Faces of ACEs Conference