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ACEs Science Champions Series: First 5 San Mateo County (CA) Forges Ahead with Trauma-Informed Initiative


Each year for the past 20 years, First 5 San Mateo County has spent nearly $7 million to help meet the needs of children from birth through age five, and support their families. In 1998, First 5 was established and funded in California by Proposition 10, which funneled tobacco tax dollars into transforming the early childhood system and guaranteeing better outcomes for all counties in the state.

In January 2018, the First 5 San Mateo County started a planning committee based on incorporating practices based on ACEs science (adverse childhood experiences), including trauma-informed strategies, to develop resilience and support for both young children and their families.

Mai Le, a program associate with First 5 San Mateo County, is co-leading this Trauma and Resiliency-Informed Systems Initiative (TRISI). With support from San Mateo County Health, “TRISI is a countywide effort to integrate a comprehensive commitment to address trauma and promote resiliency into our programs, structures, and culture.”

TRISI wants to bring a common language about trauma and resiliency to all child and family-serving organizations and institutions in the county. First 5 SMC is well positioned to lead this effort because of its long-standing relationships across many sectors and geographic areas of the county. Their grantees include Star Vista, which provides childhood mental health services, and Peninsula Family Services, which offers early learning for families experiencing homelessness.

Outreach efforts for TRISI this year may include a countywide convening this fall, as well as trainings for early childhood professionals. TRISI wants to align approaches across county agencies, community-based organizations, and private entities.

In addition, TRISI is committed to supporting assessment and implementation of trauma-informed practice among its family-serving organizations.

Another goal is to educate parents and caregivers to help recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma.

Cross-sector conversations are already happening in the county. There is a monthly Trauma Learning Collaborative hosted by San Mateo County Health, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services. In addition, San Mateo County Office of Education and First 5 San Mateo County host monthly Friday Cafés, which are learning communities for family-engagement professionals.

“For the past two months, we’ve had folks talk about trauma and there’s been a huge interest,” says Le.

Le has a bachelor’s in Planning, Public Policy, and Management from the University of Oregon , and has recently completed her master’s in Public Health San Francisco State University. Her first exposure to ACEs was in a clinical setting, when she was getting help for own childhood trauma. She mentioned in an earlier article by Laurie Udesky in California ACEs Action that after her father was diagnosed with schizophrenia after having a psychotic break, there were no supports for her at the time and this was a “missed opportunity.” 

Le has spent much of her career offering training and technical assistance for health and social providers on providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services. She believes acknowledging social inequality and racism within our institutions is very much part of being trauma-informed.

TRISI will go beyond the originally defined 10 ACEs that have been linked to adult onset of physical or mental disease, violence, or being a victim of violence. These 10 adverse childhood experiences were originally identified as physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; living with a family member who abuses alcohol or drugs, or is mentally ill; experiencing divorce; and a family member who is incarcerated.

Le explains, “We’re talking about trauma more broadly. We’re moving away from just focusing on the 10 ACEs because it doesn’t include other stressful situations, like community violence or exposure to racism.

“Our goal with TRISI,” she adds, “is to talk about preventing trauma at the early stages of a person’s life, even in the womb. That’s why we’re taking this initiative on at First 5.”

For more information about TRISI and First 5 San Mateo County, see

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Comments (3)

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Thank you for this encouraging information! 30+ years ago, I co-founded the Sanctuary Model of Trauma-Informed Care along with Dr. Sandra Bloom, and that was long before trauma informed care and practices and ACES were even in the lexicon. Now look at where it is going.... to the most vulnerable of our community and their caregivers! Bravo! Trauma-informed care is strength based and hopeful, and inclusive of all communities, populations and forms of stress and oppression. Best of luck with this initiative... 

Joseph F. Foderaro, LCSW

Co-Founder and Co-Author, The Sanctuary Model and S.E.L.F. Community Conversations

Instructor U. of P. School of Social Policy and Practice



Thanks for this interesting report!  It's encouraging to learn about this fine program funded by the state of California.  I have enjoyed leading workshops on secondary trauma and staff resiliency for several other First5 and trauma-informed programs in California, including Alameda, Mendacino, and San Diego.  CAREgivers film has provided a helpful springboard to the theme of care for the professional caregivers.  Keep up the good work!

With best wishes,

Vic Compher

Director, Producer, Trainer

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