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Film prompts additional discussion about adverse childhood experiences

July 4, 2018 GMT

SCOTTSBLUFF — Few people left the theater after the screening of the documentary, “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope.” They wanted to stay and participate in a panel discussion about the film, the ACE Study and to learn how they can help their community.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study is a landmark long-term study demonstrated an association of ACEs, or childhood trauma, with health and social problems across the lifespan. The documentary explores how toxic stress can trigger hormones that wreak havoc on the brains and bodies of children. It also chronicles the beginnings of a movement determined to fight back.

That determination saw viewers remain for a panel discussion to learn how they can help protect children from the effects of this toxic stress. The panel discussed with the audience the importance of validation in a child’s life and for the child to understand what happened to them is wrong and doesn’t happen to everyone.

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Three professionals from the Panhandle, Katherine Batt, DHHS service delivery administrator, children and family services; Renee Miller, Sixpence child care partnership grants program coordinator; and Carrie Howton, human services instructor/director and counselor at Western Nebraska Community College, spoke about their experiences with ACEs.

Miller said it was important to be kind to other people and have empathy. Instead of asking why you are the way you are, ask what happened to you.

“Instead of asking why did you do that, recognize people have had trauma in their lives that has influenced the way they are as a child and as adults,” Miller said.

In the documentary, Cynthia Manifold, kindergarten teacher, Strong Elementary School, New Haven, Connecticut said, “The sad thing is that a lot of our students think that what they are going through is normal. This is their normal. If no one has given them a way to think otherwise, I think that’s why the cycle just keeps going and going and going.”

Batt concurred, saying they assume this is how life is supposed to be and don’t realize the damage being done. Batt said it doesn’t have to be this way.

“These are all our children. We either profit from or pay for whatever they become,” Batt said. “If we don’t invest in them and give them a positive outcome, we pay for it later, financially, through the correctional system or some type of violence.”

Howton said children need to be informed about what is and is not OK. In the documentary, students get to learn about Miss Kendra, an elementary school workshop that teaches children a child safety “bill of rights” called Miss Kendra’s List. Students in the program are read the story of Miss Kendra, which teaches children about resilience and how to cope with toxic stress. Howton liked that the children could write Miss Kendra and they received answers.

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“Building that communication system and that it is OK to tell, even the artistic system and drawing is giving them (the children) an outlet,” Howton said.

The panel and the audience also recognized that it often only takes just one person to make a difference in your life.

Howton sees the importance of educating the parents to prevent the next cycle because many communities aren’t even addressing it.

“We chalk it up to a lot of other things, but we need to get to the parents,” Howton said. “We have an obligation to provide the tools they need to be successful without fear, bias or stigma.”

Working with youth and learning about ACEs has changed how each of the women works. They have recognized the need for training in the classroom. Miller said the ACE study resonated with her is ACE is not poverty- or race-related.

“It’s all of us,” Miller said. “When you’re walking down the street, most people will have experienced some of the this.”

These thought processes are developed in their childhood. Instead of having rose-colored glasses, they may have abuse glasses or mistrust processes because of their childhood experiences. Once this is understood and recognized, other ways of behaving can be developed.

Faith Mills, youth system and prevention system manager, Region 1 Behavioral Health Authority hosted the night’s event and is working with raising awareness toward ACEs. She brought Vince Felitti, co-founder of the ACE Study, to town in June, and is looking toward future and how others can help.

“After Dr. Felitti came, I realized I need to figure out what do we do now, now that we know about ACEs,” Mills said.

There is a new task force at Longfellow Elementary School in Scottsbluff and teachers have been training over the summer with the hopes of expanding it. Scottsbluff Public Schools has also implemented 3E, every child, every day, everywhere to address the needs of their students.

Programs in the community that can help parents include home visitation programs, parenting support and guidance, and the Circle of Security, an evidence-based, parent education model that helps with attachment. Miller said she sees more involvement in the future once teachers, providers, physicians and others have an undertand of ACEs because that is where the parents will learn and become receptive to the knowledge.

To learn more about the film, visit https://kpjrfilms.co/resilience/. If you would like to help expand ACEs in the community, contact Faith Mills at 308-635-3173.