Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are a huge threat to our students, diminishing their capacity to learn and succeed. In all thirty-three counties of New Mexico, an epidemic of trauma exists, spreading like a virus as it is passed down generation after generation. We know from the research that our students suffer when they endure ACEs in the form of abuse, neglect, hunger, and living with parents who misuse substances, are violent, and have untreated mental health challenges. We know in some classrooms as many as three quarters of the students endure three or more ACEs.
Our students want help for themselves and their struggling parents. We have heard them loud and clear, responding by developing in New Mexico the state’s first data-driven and cross-sector program focused on ending ACEs and family trauma that impacts not only our students, but our workforce, local economies and overall quality of life.
We have created the Resilience Leaders program, based on the book Anna, Age Eight, to bring together agency leaders from ten key family-serving sectors to commit to ensuring that 100% of our county residents--students, parents and grandparents--have access to the services shown to prevent ACEs and strengthen families and schools. Part of this process is listening to the community and hearing their ideas for solutions.
We asked high school students their ideas for ending ACEs and helping them and their families heal and thrive.
*More school classes on ACEs and education to parents
*Access to the internet for families with limited resources in case of emergency or help
*Lower costs at hospitals
*More involved law enforcement in communities
*Access to transportation
*Safe Haven for youth (an alternative to foster care)
*Better foster care
*More counseling in the workplace and public schools
*ACEs aware at baby doctors
*Take us (students) seriously—just because we are young doesn’t mean our trauma should be invalidated.
In addition to this list of suggestions, we heard from one classroom that not only did they strongly believe that their school needed a behavioral health care center, but the students lead the process of actually starting the creation of one. Working with their teachers, they secured a space that is to be what they call “a safe room” for students. It is designed as a place to sit, enjoy the quiet and regain a sense of calm and balance. It’s a place where a student can talk with others and one-on-one with an adult staff member. Adult staff would also be able to refer students to a private counseling session in another room if there was the need. The students have set up a fundraising site to raise money for the “safe rooms” furniture and additional funding to hire two adults with training in trauma-informed care to staff the room.
At Resilience Leaders, we’re impressed by the intelligence and compassion of high school students who instinctively understand that we all need access to key services to heal. Our ten task forces are already working to ensure that ten vital services exist for 100% of each county’s residents. Compare our list below to the list created by high school students above.
SURVIVAL SERVICES AND SERVICES FOR THRIVING
- Behavioral health care
- Medical/Dental care
- Transport to services
- Parent supports
- Early childhood learning programs
- Youth mentors
- Family-centered community schools
- Job training and placement
We are humbled by our high school students. Working with our youth, parents, grandparents, health care providers, child welfare community partners, mayors, governors and other elected leaders, we can create family-friendly, trauma-free counties across the entire state—where all children, students and families find safety and success.
Dominic Cappello is the co-author of Anna, Age Eight: The data-driven prevention of childhood trauma and maltreatment. You may download a copy of Anna, Age Eight free-of-charge here: www.AnnaAgeEight.org