Is Your Local ACEs Initiative Getting Inclusion Right?


"We as a nation need to be reeducated about the necessary and sufficient conditions for making human beings human. We need to be reeducated not as parents--but as workers, neighbors, and friends; and as members of the organizations, committees, boards--and, especially, the informal networks that control our social institutions and thereby determine the conditions of life for our families and their children."

                                                                                                     ~ Urie Bronfenbrenner

Often when building local ACEs initiatives, community champions believe they are being inclusive when, in actuality, they are building relationships with organizations they are already familiar with — state agencies and prominent non-profits.  When deciding who should be at the table, it's important to step outside of your comfort zone and be creative. And there are many factors to consider. 

In your next meeting, look around. Is everyone in the room college-educated?  From the same side of town? Is everyone in the non-profit sector? Is the group overwhelmingly white?  Is it overwhelmingly female? Male?

The members of your initiative, especially the steering committee, should be culturally, racially and geographically diverse, and they should cover multiple sectors within your community. With all this to consider, inclusion should not come easy. It takes real effort, trust and openness to be truly inclusive. And, in my experience, most ACEs initiatives aren’t there yet. 

If you are dedicated to being truly inclusive, one framework that is particularly effective in identifying potential members, partners and stakeholders in your ACEs movement is the Ecological Systems Theory. Urie Bronfenbrenner, a Russian-born developmental psychologist best known for his role in constructing the Head Start Program, devised a model of human development that accounted for the many systems that a child (and adult) will encounter.  His theory and accompanying model, shown below, can be a useful tool as you devise an outreach strategy for your community. 

According to Bronfenbrenner, human development is impacted by five spheres of influence: the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem and chronosystem.  For the purposes of starting an ACEs initiative, only four apply. 

  • The innermost system, microsystem, includes the home, school, etc.
  • The next closest system, mesosystem, refers to the interactions between the different settings within the microsystem.
  • The next closest system, exosystem, refers to factors that affect the individual indirectly, parent’s workplace, friends and friends’ parents, political influences, and government.
  • The outermost system, macrosystem, refers to beliefs, values, society and cultural influences.


This framework is extremely child-centered and human-centered. And, as you look at each sphere of influence, or system, you can identify the people, organizations and institutions that need a seat at your table. 

Examples of potential members, partners and stakeholders at each level of influence:

  • Microsystem: parent educators, organizations that conduct home visits, schools, hospitals, etc.
  • Mesosystem: parent advocacy organizations, education advocates, after-school programs, family engagement organizations, organizations supporting the elderly, organizations focused on addressing ACEs directly (domestic violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse, sexual assault, addiction, hunger, counseling), courts, faith community, small non-profits, community and neighborhood organizations, sports and recreation-centered organizations, etc.
  • Exosystem: local newspapers, local radio stations, labor organizations and unions, human resources, local higher education institutes, local businesses, local politicians, local government, large non-profits and city, county and state agencies, etc.
  • Macrosystem: social media, ACEs Connection, organizations and advocates that address poverty, discrimination, racism, sexism and LGBTQI issues, organizations that promote character building, civic organizations, law, etc.

I hope this model can be helpful to community champions as they take up the charge to ensure that their communities are ACE-aware, trauma-informed and healing-centered.

Urie Bronfenbrenner


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Hi David -- I completely agree with you about corporal punishment in the schools and have written about it often over the years. Am getting ready to do so again and would love to compare notes with you. Best, Diana Hembree, Science Writer, Center for Youth Wellness

It is crucial that the ACE programs address the fact that in 19 US states it is still legal in schools to “punish” children physically , usually with paddles, with disastrous results. I believe all of those states have active ACE initiatives. Congress over the past few years  has rejected several bills to make the practice illegal in all states. Their are over 40 years of research clearly demonstrating the dangers of hitting children. Dr Afifi recently had research that shows that spanking is an ACE. Congress needs to hear loud and clear that this practice is dangerous at may levels. I have written on this subject and have over 32 years on the field of child protection.