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Education, inspiration, and action—Maryland lawmakers take deeper dive into ACEs science and how it informs policy


(l to r) Maryland Delegates Stephanie Smith, Alice Cain, Michele Guyton at the Dec. 13th "MGA ACEs Roundtable"

While members of the Maryland General Assembly (MGA) did not dominate the Dec. 13th “MGA ACEs Roundtable” in numbers, they commanded the room and enlivened a focus on how ACEs science can inform current and future policies considered by elected officials. Other participants shared the ACEs prevention and trauma-informed work taking place across the state in multiple sectors to illustrate how communities and organizations are translating the science into action on the ground.

The goal of the meeting, according to Claudia Remington, executive director of SCCAN (Maryland State Council on Child Abuse & Neglect), which organized the meeting, was “to educate legislators on the science of ACEs in order to develop a handful of strong champions in each the House and Senate who would begin to view, and encourage their colleagues in both houses to view, current and future policies proposed in the General Assembly through the lens of the N.E.A.R. (neuroscience, epigenetics, ACEs, & resilience) Science.” 

MD. Del. Vanessa Atterbeary & Del. Wilson
Maryland Delegates C.T. Wilson and Vanessa Atterbeary (facing camera)

An education and advocacy day addressing specific ACEs science-informed policies is planned for February 7th after the legislature convenes on Jan. 9. Among the ideas raised at the Roundtable for this session included creating a children’s trauma caucus in the legislature and holding an educational briefing for legislators on ACEs science. 

The event was organized by SCCAN, Maryland Essentials for Childhood, and The Family Tree — the state’s Prevent Child Abuse America chapter. Meeting sponsors included Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary and Senator Antonio Hayes who serve on the House Judiciary and Senate Finance Committees respectively.

ACEs1 -Graphic RecordingRemington expressed gratitude for a grant from Abell Foundation that provided funding for a facilitator, Sue Borchardt, a member of the facilitation team at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA), and graphic recording artist Lucinda Levine of InkQuiry Visuals. 

Melissa Merrick, who was named president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America in July after a long career at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gave an overview of the most recent research findings on ACEs and their implications for government policy, the economy, and business. For the prior nine years, she was the lead scientist for the ACE Study at CDC. Just as Merrick settled into the new role as chief advocate for a major child-focused organization, CDC published her research findings on ACEs as part of the “Vital Signs” series, a first time for the topic of ACEs.  That research study — “Estimated Proportion of Adult Health Programs Attributable to Adverse Childhood Experience and Implications for Prevention—25 States. 2015-2017” — was posted on November 5 as an MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report).

First Lady Tracey Carney & Md. Del. Stephanie Smith
First Lady Tracey Carney & Md. Del. Stephanie Smith (r to l)

Other highlights of the meeting included:

—A presentation by Kate Blackman of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) that covered specific ACEs-related state legislation (28 states enacted legislation last year) and broad policies related to income supports for families, quality childcare, and family leave. 

—A panel discussion that included First Lady of Delaware Tracey Quillen Carney; Kate Blackman of the NCSL; Joan Gillece of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors; Michael Castognola, staff for the House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee; and Mary Rolando, ACEs Innovations Director in the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. First Lady Carney described the importance of the 2018 governor’s Executive Order 24 “Making Delaware a Trauma-Informed State” and how she is a convener and “head cheerleader” for trauma-informed initiatives in the state. Rolando also commented on the significant role played by Tennessee’s First Lady on the issue. She said that the Frameworks Institute helped the ACEs initiative develop its messaging so that is resonated with the state’s culture, e.g., emphasis on prosperity and opportunity.

Merrick also emphasized the importance of framing the issue in a positive way — the goal [Essentials for Childhood Framework] is to “create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments” for all children — vs. preventing ACEs. A major policy priority for Prevent Child Abuse America is to support the expansion of the current Essentials for Childhood Framework to all 50 states.  Currently, there are seven funded states (CA, CO, KS, MA, NC, UT, and WA) and 35 that receive technical assistance but are not funded, according to Merrick.

Ruby Parker, The Family Tree
Ruby Parker, The Family Tree

Attendees were encouraged to join Maryland ACEs Action on ACEs to share what they are doing and keep informed about other efforts at the community and state levels. A meeting handout included an invitation to join the state site, made easy with a scannable barcode created by Ruby Parker of The Family Tree, one of several community managers for the state site.

The meeting was reported on by Olivia Sanchez of the Annapolis newspaper, the Capital Gazette where a shooter killed five people and injured others in a rampage in the offices of the paper in June of last year — a trauma for the staff, their families, and for journalists everywhere.

Sanchez’s story links to a 2015 article in the Baltimore Sun about the public testimony provided by one of the legislators in attendance, Delegate C.T. Wilson. In the testimony, he shared his painful personal child abuse experience to advance legislation giving survivors more time to bring civil suits. Wilson was horrifically abused by his adoptive father from age nine through his teens and tells his story to help survivors find justice. 

MD. Del. C.T. Wilson
Maryland Delegate C.T. Wilson

In the closing circle of the meeting, Wilson urged conference organizers and participants not to be disappointed or discouraged that more legislators were not in attendance. He said it only takes a few elected leaders with passion and commitment to propel an issue forward and the convening provided a galvanizing spark. Earlier in the day, he referenced his own childhood adversity and expressed his hope that his work in the legislature will improve the circumstances of children growing up today. Wilson is an advocate for legislation that embodies the policy priorities of SCCAN and other child and family-focused organizations.


Images (5)
  • First Lady Tracey Carney & Md. Del. Stephanie Smith
  • MD. Del. C.T. Wilson
  • MD. Del. Vanessa Atterbeary & Del. Wilson
  • Ruby Parker, The Family Tree
  • ACEs1 -Graphic Recording

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