Understanding protective factors

I was 31 when I became a mother. Many years after what I thought was enough time to get away from my abusive childhood.

My life was turned upside down after my first child was born. I breast fee him, Not knowing what to expect from my body. The physical feeling of milk letting down and vaginal blood rushes was something I had ignored since my childhood. Then I did not have control of my body as my step father sexually abused me.

It was the first of having memories flood my mind of my childhood. I started therapy and began to notice triggers in my life. PTSD and extreme depression snuck into my soul.

I was determined to not let my abuser take away my adulthood like he had taken away my childhood.

Not wanting cycles of abuse to go on in my family, I learned about normal childhood development through a parenting education program in Minnesota, known as  Early Childhood Family Education.

Learning about the emotional development of children was another turning point in my healing. That along with my faith in God and my church family saved my two beautiful children (now adults) and my 36 yrs of marriage .

I have an ACE Score of 7. I have also learned and taught Protective Factors as define by the Center of the Study of Social Policy. These research informed factors to me are the what's next after you learn about ACE's.

Now a proud Grandmother of six, I move into another journey. I call it ACES after 65.


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What a fascinating and hopeful conversation going on right here. I am a parenting survivor with an ACE score of 9. @Joyelle Brandt and I co-edited a book called Parenting with PTSD because when we went looking for something (anything!) on the topic of parenting after experiencing childhood abuse, we continuously came up empty-handed. There is tons of stuff on parenting and on childhood abuse, but we were both stunned by the lack of information on what it's like to parenting when you have experienced childhood abuse. We created exactly what we went looking for and we have discovered through the process that there are so many of us out here struggling to break the cycle, and feeling like we don't have the right or enough support to do it. The book has become a valuable resource for both parents and survivors and we are now using it as a tool in presentations and workshops we offer. Not addressing a parent's ACEs is THE missing link in parenting education/support services, in our opinion. Right now we are working on creating resources, tools and educational forums that will help break down the silos in which we treat families, just as the trauma-informed care movement is doing on an organizational level.

Thank you, Roxanna, for sharing your story and igniting this conversation. It is so very needed. And the collaborative feel within these comments is inspiring. It's going to take all of us to fix the broken systems in which we turn to for help.

Good for you for breastfeeding!!

Regarding parenting with ACEs... Besides being a CASA I am a La Leche League leader.  Breastfeeding can be a great place to focus with expectant or new moms, because it conveys many protective factors to children above and beyond nutritional benefits, most of all secure attachment.  Plus, it is free.  Plus, it gives you prolactin and endorphins, which feel relaxing and good!  If there is LLL in the community, the mother can get free help at a meeting, or at 1-800-LA-LECHE.

We need to let new mothers know that the togetherness, responsiveness, holding, and comfort provided by breastfeeding is all a form of BRAIN BUILDING.  As is carrying/ babywearing.   The calmer and happier the baby, the more he or she is learning calm, happy habits of mind.  The more quickly he settles, the better.  One of my friends called breastfeeding "the secret weapon" because it was so easy to soothe her baby doing it.   The short term of breastfeeding is pretty hard, but in the long run you will have a contented, attached, healthy baby.

Also, breastfeeding can be very empowering.  It was pretty cool to realize what my body could do, and how it could perfectly provide the exact nutrients my baby needed. 

Breastfeeding can be triggering to sexual abuse survivors.  I worked with a woman who was very triggered by breastfeeding-- as it was someone (baby) waking them in the night and wanting the use of their body...  I emphasized thet it was entirely her choice, and that whatever would bring her the closest to the baby and enjoying her baby the most would be the right choice.  In this mother's case it was a healing experience to reclaim her body and breasts and breastfeed, once she realized what the connection was.


I couldn't agree with Cissy more. Getting our students under control and regulated must be step one. However, we are good at multi tasking. My point is even once we have helped them individully we still haven't taught them how to be better parents than their own have been. Teaching one generation won't fix the problem. This will be ongoing and baby steps.


I'm going to private message you about sharing more widely on Parenting with ACEs.  But for all reading this thread, PLEASE know ALL ARE WELCOME to share on/in Parenting with ACEs. 

I'm tagging our Resource Center person as well as there is great stuff here @Morgan Vien. I'm tagging  @Dawn Daum who is a member and doing great work with, for and by survivor parents and sharing / using ACEs science to support parents and parenting and families.

Roxanna: I LOVE what you say and share and I'm 100% with you that after we learn about ACEs, the parenting piece is key. It's so hopeful and empowering (once we have more ways to calm down and understand how powerful our role as a parent can be). 

@Karen Clemmer I think expanding to ACEs in Early Childhood is KEY. In a dreamy world, we'd have ACEs BEFORE Families start, ACEs DURING pregnancy/delivery/adopting, ACEs in early parenting, ACEs in school-age kids, ACEs related to teens.

There's overlap, obviously with Parenting with ACEs, but so much of what we've done with Parenting with ACEs is try to say, "It's a thing. It's real," and just trying to include/insist on the voices of parents being more central. Often, programs miss the mark or aren't even available until a lot has gone wrong and people are so deep in crisis. Many don't understand that what is/isn't challenging about parenting is not always the same if one has an ACE score of 1 vs. an ACE score of 9 and many programs are based around this gap and that's hard for all involved. 

Roxanna and Angela & Everyone: Please share more in Parenting with ACEs. We'd love your input, blog posts, sharing about what you have done, are doing, the planning, etc. and what works, what's needed, etc. We need and want more voices/perspectives/input and ideas. 

Thanks for the great information, experiences and resources and ideas, ALREADY discussed and shared!!! 

@Rene Howitt has done/is doing some amazing work and is reaching kids in high school which is critical. I hope all will share resources and brainstorms. 

As far as national child development, it's a great idea, but often fails to understand that those who need it most, with higher ACE scores, are often pretty out of regulation and overwhelmed by stress and so being present, attentive, attuned and attached, even when one gets it intellectually and is on board, isn't always possible. I think many programs miss this and that the info. can't be absorbed, doesn't stick and get used if one is in survival mode rather than embodied and inhabited. That often gets covered as self-care but it's more about being regulated, engaged, in our bodies and feeling safe enough to attend to the body. This can take a VERY long time and there's little that helps people demystify this or make a shift and a lot of shame about trauma and parenting struggles. 

Marilyn: It sounds like you have an effective approach that supports all.

That a great discussion! 


Hi Karen,

I would love to see a early childhood platform. I know we have a parenting platform maybe protective factors could be brought into that conversation. The National Alliance of Children Trust and Prevention Funds has an on-line free Protective Factor training. Walla Walla used Protective Factor language to trump ACES Here is the link

The early childhood program in Minnesota has a certified Parent Education program. Folks get a degree in Parent Education.



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Marilyn Benoit posted:

Karen, I like your idea. We should start teaching the curriculum Roxann describes in middle school. We should not let outdated morality issues prevent us from discussing science.

Hi Marilyn, I think there are many ways to frame and discuss protective factors.  For some individuals a secular conversation provides the context they find most useful.  Those individuals might want to check out ACEs in the Faith Based Community And for others it may look very different.  I agree with you -we need to keep discussing ACEs science. Thanks, Karen

Hi! I tried to post this comment earlier from my phone, but it appears not to have gone through. Apologies if this is a duplicate!

I am thrilled to discover that this conversation is happening here. I am an ordained family minister with the United Church of Christ, but I left traditional ministry when I had a baby, almost 11 years ago. Although I had spent years in therapy, and the first twelve years of my professional life working with the non-profit sector to build public policy and programs into the lives of children, I was ill equipt to handle the flood of implicit memory that surfaced when I had an infant. When she was four months old I started taking parenting classes from a non-profit near me. The classes combined education and support for parents regarding our own triggers, as well as information about the developmental needs of babies and children.  I was certified later by this organization and by the time my daughter was 4 I was teaching classes to parents who had children younger than mine. Mine was a case of "teaching what you need to learn" and "building what you need to see." I taught parenting classes for six years as a community-based minister. It was secular content, but it was ministry to me because I came to see parent support and education as critical for parents with young children if we wanted to put out love (and hence, our faith!) in action in our own families! During this time, I stopped using the non-profit curriculum I had been using and instead developed my own based on what I was learning about ACEs, resilience and healing)both through my own therapy--by then I was working with a Somatic Experiencing trauma therapist--and through my extensive reading and research, and self-education). I came to feel that what I was offering was a drop in the bucket compared to the need in my area (Berkeley, California) so I am now in the early stages of building an interfaith, interspiritual, cross sector non-profit called The Family Spirit Center to put education, support, and healing relationships into the lives of children, youth and parents. It is hard to build this while still parenting my own child, but I am clear I will not be doing it alonE. I would absolutely love to hear more about the curriculum you developed, and perhaps even talk about purchasing it to use in our setting (or combining it with mine, if appropriate). I would also just love to connect with anyone who know anything about how build what I am building! And if you'd be willing to throw in some "parent coaching" frim time to time for me, I am still in throws of it and would love some trauma-informed coaching! At any rate, thank you, thank you, thank you for the work you have done and the work you are doing, and for taking the time to write about it here. I am so encouraged! All my heart, Angela

Roxann (Roxy) Foster posted:

How do we create a national movement to teach child development? I have worked with three national organizations some traction but nothing that sticks.

The issue of parenting polarized our country politically and socially. If ACE's science and neurobiology can get incorporated into the science curriculum in schools we may have a chance. If it can then be connected to psychology, sociology and well-being in health maybe we can change a generation.

Gosh child welfare can not even define well-being but it is the mandate to prevent child abuse.


Journey of ACE's after 65


Roxann (Roxy!), Marilyn, Karen & Rene - I think you may have hit upon something that has been overlooked!  What do you think about a child development group on ACEs Connection?  We have an community called ACEs in Child Care however, I've been thinking we need to expand this group to be ACEs in Early Childhood.  What do you think? We could use this as a platform for sharing information, updates, inspiring stories and so much more.  Thoughts??!!  Karen

Thanks for sharing this very personal story. I am aware that the mental health profession tends to ignore the trauma of the caretakers of the youth who come under our care. I have been advocating for decades for "one stop shopping" where we treat the adult individuals within families and not just do "family therapy" instructing caregivers how to respond to the behaviors of their children. In one family I treated, the mother had been sexually abused at age 5 and had never told a single person until she disclosed to me. I then specifically treated her, and she was able to share with the family and work through her early childhood trauma. It was quite remarkable to see how the chaos in the family abated, and all the five children have grown up to be wonderful citizens.

Thanks for reminding us of the importance of protective factors and the need to build them in. Parent education and support, supportive relationships, and community. So often we rely on psychotherapy and individual methods of change, when we can bring so much more into the helping arena.


National organizations and child welfare tend to have their own brand of parenting education. Those programs are designed as a reaction to a problem that has already surfaced. In my opinion many of those programs are very soft core because they are also trying to form a relationship with the families in distress. The Prevent Child Abuse organization is the only one that has shown great interest in what I'm doing. Specifically, it is the Pennsylvania PCA. They are trying to put together the funds to get my work studied.

I have spent the last nine years working directly with Family Consumer Science (FAC or FCS) teachers. I offered myself up as a free guest speaker, raised the funds to produce curriculum and reality-based documentary style videos and began traveling across the country to high schools. As I was honing my skill as a speaker I was also reading up on ACEs. The schools are now required to offer all teachers and faculty days of "Professional Development". So I have combined the two and now am speaking in those PD days. I speak on ACEs but also have an opportunity to make the case for the need to make parenting and child dev. a priority. 

I have noticed a trend. Folks are tired of government that won't take action unless it is for their own party. I can think of two reactions to legislation that a segment of the public disagrees with.  So as a business owner or a citizen I can resolve to take action into my own hands but just have to be sure not to break the law. The bakers that refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay marriage but do serve gay people (that has caused litigation). Since the Parkland shooting we have Walmart and Dick's Sporting saying they will not sell certain guns to those under 21 (the law only says one can purchase once they are 18 it doesn't say I have to sell it to them). I don't think the later will face litigation but I believe these are examples of the public taking action. The schools can do the same thing. If our government won't listen then we can get the schools to understand and step up. It will be one by one but gradually we can get there. The schools will be some of the first to benefit from more students coming prepared to learn and not living in trauma. 

I have tried writing and calling each of the legislators from Missouri, my home state, but they just don't get it. They immediately make this about guns. That maybe a problem but it doesn't get to the root of this problem. 

How do we create a national movement to teach child development? I have worked with three national organizations some traction but nothing that sticks.

The issue of parenting polarized our country politically and socially. If ACE's science and neurobiology can get incorporated into the science curriculum in schools we may have a chance. If it can then be connected to psychology, sociology and well-being in health maybe we can change a generation.

Gosh child welfare can not even define well-being but it is the mandate to prevent child abuse.


Journey of ACE's after 65


You figured out on your own something that most will never figure out...Parenting and child development education must become a priority in this nation if we want to stop the cycle of abuse, neglect, dysfunction and family chaos. I'm so happy for you that God blessed you with this ability to overcome and seek further education to do better. Most are not as resilient. Making parenting and child development education  a priority in all of our high schools reaching all of our students is a much need change.