Program that addresses childhood trauma and teaches resilience shows results in Louisville; expanding to Lake Cumberland area

A pilot program in a few Louisville elementary schools that focused on building resiliency in children who suffer from childhood trauma saw results: fewer with behavior referrals, improved staff skills, increased parental participation and increased teacher retention — and it’s a model that could be replicated.

Studies show that adverse childhood experiences, a term used for all types of abuse, neglect and family dysfunction that occur under the age of 18, are linked to negative health outcomes in adulthood.

ACEs have been linked to chronic health conditions, like heart disease and obesity, risky behaviors, like substance abuse, mental-health issues, like depression, and even early death.

When determining if a child has experienced trauma, 10 types of ACEs are measured, largely because they are the ones that children experience most often.

They include five personal measures, including physical, verbal and sexual abuse and physical and emotional neglect. The other five relate to other family members: having an alcoholic parent, a mother who is a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment.

The more ACEs a child experiences, the greater his or her chances of experiencing poor health outcomes in adulthood. Nearly 27 percent of Kentucky’s children have two or more ACEs.

ACEs are the root cause of many serious academic, social and behavioral problems that have the potential to prevent a child from succeeding in school, and as noted before, more than one of four children in Kentucky are showing up to school having experienced two or more of them.

The pilot program in Louisville, called the Bounce Coalition, was created to address this trauma. It was funded in part by a six-year, $300,000 grant from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky that was matched by local funds.

“Abuse, neglect or situations such as parental drug use or incarceration that kids experience not only cause many of them to act out. It may mean they’ll have poor health as adults that could lead to an early death,” Ben Chandler, foundation president ad CEO, said in a news release. “This grant program was about finding ways to mitigate the impact of ACEs early on, while patterns can be changed, with the goal of preventing both the short-term and the long-term problems ACEs create.”

Bounce program participants Foundation for a Healthy Ky. photo)

The Bounce Coalition trained teachers and staff in several Louisville elementary schools to recognize ACEs and gave guidance on how to address them. It taught students strategies to promote resilience and included activities for parents. It also expanded its work to organizations outside the school setting.

The release notes that the program’s trauma training is built around an approach of “What happened to you?” instead of “What’s wrong with you?”

An evaluation of the two schools that implemented the program the longest showed improvements in student suspensions and behavioral referrals; a 56-point jump in the percentage of staff who felt they were adequately trained to deal with trauma, from 30% in 2014 to 86% in 2017; an increase of 195% in parent-teacher conferences between 2014 and 2017; and PTA membership grew from zero to 213.

The schools also showed improvements in all nine categories of their student school climate surveys, while the control school failed to show gains for any of the measures, and the district showed gains in five. And teacher retention in those schools increased to 90.2% in 2017, from 87.8% in 2014.

“Bounce has shown us that adults have the ability to change children’s lives by re-framing their interactions,” Betty J. Adkins, co-lead of the project, said in the release. “Children need at least one caring adult to believe in them. It is really that simple.”

The Bounce Coalition is expanding its work to rural Kentucky to see if the same training will be beneficial there. Bounce received a two-year $200,000 foundation grant in May to work with Russell County Schools and the Lake Cumberland District Health Department to implement the ACEs program there.

Chandler said, “Our goal is to create a blueprint for successfully addressing ACEs that coalitions across Kentucky can use to secure funding from other sources to implement in their own school districts and communities.”