The Capital Region Climate Readiness Collaborative (CRC) conducted our first Quarterly Adaptation Exchange in 2018 on how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma can be a detriment to an individual’s physical, social, and mental health that has lasting effects into adulthood. Climate impacts and an individual’s and/or community’s capacity to respond to trauma with resilience is intrinsically tied to access to a support system, resources, and past traumas. The reality is with Climate Change everyone will experience some level of trauma. Having resiliency resources and support systems in place ahead of time not only supports those with ACEs but provides a foundation of support for when a climate event does occur (such as the Sonoma Wildfires).
What is Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?
ACEs is the term given to describe all types of abuse, neglect, and other traumatic experiences that occur to individuals under the age of 18.
The original ACE study looked at 10 types of childhood trauma: emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; and growing up in a household where there was substance abuse, mental illness, violent (emotional and physical) treatment by a mother or stepmother, parental separation/divorce, or a household member who was incarcerated. The study examined the relationships between these experiences during childhood and reduced health and well-being later in life. It also showed dramatic links between adverse childhood experiences and risky behavior, psychological issues, serious illness, chronic disease, immune system disorders, obesity and the leading causes of death.
Donielle Prince, the Bay Area Regional Community Facilitator for the ACEs Connection Network, provided an overview of ACEs and how it affects our wellbeing. She explained our childhood experiences have a tremendous, lifelong impact on our health and the quality of our lives, and that major adversity can weaken and change developing brain architecture and permanently set the body’s stress response system on high alert. But, she explained that providing stable, supportive and responsive environments for children in the earliest years of life can prevent or reverse these conditions. Whereas without this support, the children would otherwise experience lifelong consequences in terms of learning, behavior, economic potential and health outcomes. ACE’s also has the tendency to be repeated generation after generation without intervention. Donielle provided examples of the lasting health effects and impact of toxic stress on the brain and body as a result of untreated traumas: depression, substance abuse, heart disease, cancer, lung disease, immuno-capacity, etc.
Donielle introduced a theme that weaved itself throughout the panel and participant discussions: we need to change the trauma question from - what is WRONG with you to what HAPPENED to you? To build resilience from trauma-informed practice is to make an effort to know the past and current traumas impacting family, friends and those you work with - whether a client, patient, student, or program participant. You may not have the option to know an individual’s particular trauma history, but you can learn to view behavior through a trauma-informed lens.
How Do We Build Social Resilience?
After Donielle presented, Judy Robinson from Sacramento County moderated a panel that included: Vanessa Toro Barragan, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water; Victoria Flores, Sacramento City Unified School District; and Gail Kennedy and Donielle Prince, ACEs Connection.
The panel discussed how trauma-informed decision-making can build social resilience. On an individual level, the panel discussed the importance of providing support to your community and neighbors by establishing trusted relationships and checking on your neighbors, friends, and coworkers. On a community level, the panel discussed the urgency to develop trauma-informed approaches and trainings for police officers, first responders, disaster recovery staff, teachers, property managers, healthcare providers and for the community in general.
To begin to address ACEs and frame the story for a community, the panel suggested to spend money /tailor the discussion in a way that will meet the community’s needs. For example, after the Tubbs Fire that devastated Sonoma County last October, the county has used its resources to help the community long after OES responders left. Today, they are asking important questions to help inform how to rebuild. Questions such as: What designs and construction methods will be endorsed and implemented to protect communities from future weather events? How can the reconstruction be participatory to include all voices and needs of all residents? How can we facilitate a rebuilding process that takes into account communities’ real needs and empowers marginalized residents to have a role in recovery? And how can the recovery effort leverage lessons from both the successes, and failures of prior disaster recovery efforts, such as Hurricane Ike, Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy? Because Sonoma County ACEs Connection is one of the longest running ACEs communities in California, the county was already aware of the community’s ACEs profile. By establishing this network before the Tubbs Fire, Sonoma County was better-equipped to address the community-wide trauma and tailor their resources to the appropriate places in the community.
Where do we go from here?
Climate Change is one of the most significant challenges affecting the public’s health. Research shows the many health-related impacts to expect as a result of climate events, and calls particular attention to vulnerable communities and populations that will be affected the most. These populations are also highly likely to be dealing with ACEs. So how can we help vulnerable people today by setting up a foundation of resiliency that will also be in place to support everyone during a climate event?
After the panel discussion, participants were tasked to think about a trauma they had experienced in their life, how they dealt with that trauma, and what resources and support was available during and after the trauma. Participants were then tasked with commitments on supporting greater access to resources and supporting communitywide social cohesion. A few of those commitments were:
- Aid my own family and friends in accessing healthcare and especially mental healthcare; Link with my neighbors to discuss homelessness and how we as a neighborhood or apartment complex can support them as neighbors as well; Work with the engineering and environmental science discipline to prioritize environmental justice with science model; Expand access to helpful experiences and information; Incorporate ACEs training in the police force at the City of Chico as an adaptation strategy in the General Plan; Access to resources in consumers’ primary languages; Increase access of healthy foods to under-invested populations; Help students learn mindful moment; Create centers for youth to be empowered – safe zones neighborhood; Engage with the world with a “what happened to you” lens (compassion);
Resources including information about ACEs and building resilience, notes, and presentation slides from this meeting can be found: http://climatereadiness.info/crc-event-materials/
Who is the Capital Region Climate Readiness Collaborative?
We are a collaborative of local leaders seeking to build climate resilience throughout California’s Capital Region. We bring together stakeholders from across sectors and jurisdictions to find regional solutions to address our shared challenges – drought, extreme heat, extreme weather events, wildfires and more. Our goal is to help the six counties of El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba, and the communities they encompass, thrive in the face of a changing climate.
Should you have any questions, please contact Grace Kaufman at firstname.lastname@example.org