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How Community Networks Stem Childhood Traumas []


[Ed. note: This is the second of a three-part series that David Bornstein is doing on how communities are integrating trauma-informed and resilience-building practices based on ACEs science.] 

Liberals and conservatives often disagree about the causes of poverty and other social ills. Broadly speaking, liberals point the finger at structural factors and advocate for policy changes, while conservatives look to individuals and families and favor behavior changes. Clearly, both points of view have validity. But what’s often overlooked is what lies between these two poles — communities and neighborhoods — and the value of focusing on this middle zone.

Last week, I reported on the work of the Family Policy Council, an initiative established in Washington State in the 1990s to stem a rise in youth violence. Policy makers recognized connections between youth violence and several issues: child abuse, domestic violence, placement of children outside their family homes, dropping out of high school, teen pregnancy, youth substance abuse and youth suicide. They gave the council a modest budget and a statewide mandate, so the organization focused on helping counties across the state establish their own community networks to advance integrated solutions.

The council operated for close to two decades before its budget was cut in 2012, but the work it catalyzed continues to ripple out across the state (and is being carried forward through a new public-private initiative). Last week, researchers released the results of a three-year study examining five community networks in Washington. What they found was striking: Some communities had successfully reduced the “long-term social, emotional and physical problems related to abuse, neglect and other adverse childhood experiences.”

“These are very hard issues to solve, and some of these efforts have been successful with pretty slim resources, just a hundred thousand dollars or a few hundred thousand dollars,” said Natalya Verbitsky-Savitz, the principal investigator on the study. The reason for the outsize impact, relative to resources, was the way networks leveraged resources by engaging partners within the community, she said.

The study found improved graduation rates in Walla Walla, reductions in prenatal smoking and alcohol use by mothers, and fewer infants born at low or very low birth weights in Skagit, and reduced alcohol use among teenagers in Okanogan, Verbitsky-Savitz said. What’s more, the communities had built up their own capacity to create productive partnerships and coalitions, establish shared goals, and use evidence-based approaches to make progress — although all of them needed help to learn how to make good use of data, mobilize residents and sustain themselves.

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