By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
A collaboration of 31 grantmaking organizations across Kentucky have launched an initiative to focus on statewide policy changes to prevent and lessen the impacts of childhood trauma, also called adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.
Barry Allen, president and treasurer of The Gheens Foundation, one instigator of the Bloom Kentucky coalition, said it will move grant- making organizations from across the state out of their comfort zone and into actively advocating for policy changes to prevent and reduce ACEs.
“Each of you and your organizations, through this initiative, are giving the current and future generations of the commonwealth’s children and families reasons for hope,” Allen said at the Aug. 4 announcement.
ACEs are traumatic or stressful events that occur before age 18, such as abuse or neglect, substance-use issues in the household, or separation from a parent due to incarceration. More than one in five Kentucky children, 22%, have experienced at least two ACEs, ranking the state 14th in the nation.
ACEs can have lifelong effects on health and well-being. They are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, substance-use problems in adulthood, and can limit education, job opportunities and earning potential.
It’s easy to think that the issues impacting ACEs are just too complex to tackle, but this coalition “absolutely rejects that notion,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, the backbone organization for the Bloom Kentucky initiative.
“ACEs can have multi-generational impacts, which means we need holistic, multi-generational solutions,” Brooks said in a news release. “Systemic policy change can influence every Kentucky community to foster opportunities for kids and families to flourish. We urge our state lawmakers to think upstream and prioritize policies and investments that prevent these traumatic experiences from happening in the first place.”
Brooks stressed that the work to get these policies in place will require persistence, saying that this is not a “microwave proposition,” but instead a “crock-pot effort.” The organizers said they would announce its policy priorities for the 2022 General Assembly this fall.
Bloom Kentucky honored three Kentucky leaders for their historic efforts to address ACEs: Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, for “pioneering this effort;” state Health Secretary Eric Friedlander, who was the first to “pound the pulpit” on this issue; and Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, chair of the Senate Education Committee, for his efforts to bring trauma informed care into schools after the 2018 Marshall County High School shootings.
Wise said the issues that contribute to ACEs are not defined as rural or urban, but as “commonwealth issues,” and said he was committed to working with Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Andy Beshear on policies around the School Safety Resiliency Act and ACEs.