Foundation Welcomes New Executive Director

After a national search, the ACE Awareness Foundation is pleased to announce its new executive director: Renée Wilson-Simmons, DrPH. She is an expert in child and adolescent development with more than 30 years of research, social service, and non-profit experience. She joins the Foundation from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, where she served as director of the National Center for Children in Poverty, a nonpartisan public policy research center.

“I’m very proud to be joining the ACE Awareness Foundation at a time when the movement to understand and address adverse childhood experiences is gaining real traction across the nation,” said Dr. Wilson-Simmons. “At the top of my to-do list is finding the best ways to build on the Foundation’s stellar work, amplifying its voice as an authority and continuing to increase awareness of ACEs and access to the types of supports that can help entire generations thrive.”
Dr. Wilson-Simmons welcomes and will respond to all greetings sent to her new email address: Stay tuned for more information as she transitions into her new role, and see the announcement for more information about her background.


ACE Awareness Foundation and Sen. Lamar Alexander Celebrate Movement on Opioid Bill Authorizing Support for Trauma-Informed Care

On April 24, ACE Awareness Foundation representatives visited Washington D.C. to meet with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on the trailblazing work being conducted in his state to reduce the harm of toxic stress and to share our knowledge and expertise on ACEs.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) with Barbara Nixon, Renée Wilson-Simmons, and A C Wharton, Jr.

That same day, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee, chaired by Sen. Alexander, unanimously approved The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. Informed by seven bipartisan hearings, testimony from medical and recovery professionals, and feedback from the public, the final bill includes 40 proposals to increase the ways resources can be deployed to combat the epidemic, from improving federal agencies’ ability to address the crisis — including its ripple effects on children, families, and communities — to increasing data sharing among states.

Several of the bill’s provisions acknowledge the importance of addressing ACEs:

  • Prioritize trauma-informed training as part of graduate education under the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training program.
  • Authorize the CDC to support states’ efforts to collect and report data on adverse childhood experiences through existing public health surveys.
  • Create an interagency task force to identify and disseminate trauma-informed best practices within federal grant programs.
  • Authorize grants that link educational agencies with mental health systems to increase student access to evidence-based trauma support services to help prevent and mitigate trauma that children and youth experience.
  • Increase funding authorization for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
  • Expand the National Health Service Corps eligibility to schools and communities.

The approval was a major step forward in addressing the current epidemic as a public health crisis that requires collaboration among people, communities, families, states, and the federal government. Sen. Alexander said he expects the Senate to take final action on the bill this summer after other committees with jurisdiction over aspects of the opioid crisis have completed their work.

“It was an exciting start to my second day as executive director of the ACE Awareness Foundation,” said Renée Wilson-Simmons, “This was an important conversation to have with Sen. Alexander, and I’m glad that former Memphis and Shelby Country Mayor A C Wharton, Jr was able to facilitate the meeting. Thanks to Barbara Nixon, ACE Awareness founder, the senator and his staff were given critical details about foundation-funded Universal Parenting Places (UPPs), the Building Strong Brains initiative, and Books from Birth, as well as a far better understanding of great work being conducted in Memphis and beyond.”

While Tennessee is considered a leader in advancing understanding of ACEs and developing and implementing promising interventions, much more is needed to secure the future of the state’s next generation of adults — a message that was not lost on Sen. Alexander, a leader in efforts to promote early childhood education. The team expressed to the senator and his staff that with research clearly showing the profound and lasting impact that early experiences have on brain development, our nation must do all it can to support early childhood development. And because adults who are prone to self-medication are also likely to confront a range of health and social-emotional challenges related to ACEs, the use of a public health model is essential, with a focus on prevention, intervention, and treatment, with prevention as the top priority.



Mother’s Day and the Challenge of Parenting Through Trauma

On this Mother’s Day, May 13, we celebrate all mothers. But those mothers who are meeting the challenges of parenting despite the harmful legacy of their own traumatic experiences during childhood deserve a special kind of praise.


New Research on Parenting and ACEs

Several recently published research studies in Pediatrics found that mothers who endured toxic stress or ACEs during childhood may be more likely to have children with developmental delays and to face challenges in child-rearing. Summarized in Reuters Health News, one of the studies was conducted with 1,994 mothers and their infants. About 12 percent of infants’ developmental delays in communication, motor skills, problem solving and social skills by age 1 were the result of maternal ACEs. The researchers found that for each additional ACE mothers experienced, children were 18 percent more likely to have a suspected developmental delay.

Another study that explored the link between ACEs and coping skills in 671 parents found that parents who experienced more adversity and trauma during childhood displayed less resilience and more difficulty coping and caring for their sick children.

Addressing the Trauma

It is possible to break the cycle of trauma, and a range of resources exists to help do so. For more than 25 years, May has been recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month by health care professionals and health promotion experts across the country. This year, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are a focus of outreach efforts, with advocates joining forces to increase public awareness of both the causes and remedies for our modern stress epidemic. In addition, April was National Child Abuse Prevention Month, an initiative funded by the Children’s Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, which also placed special attention on ACEs.

  • See the new video below from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that is helping to raise awareness of ACEs.

  • Check out the 2018 Resource Guide published by the Children’s Bureau, which contains tip sheets and information about protective factors. Chapter 4 addresses ACEs.
  • Refer to the Calendar of events from Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee, which supports parents and their communities in their efforts to build loving homes where children feel treasured, adored, and valued. The organization is committed to using evidence-based program models in its direct services to families, providing in-home parenting support in 30 Tennessee counties and administering several statewide programs.


State Level Action on ACEs

Read about recent efforts to combat ACEs beyond our home state of Tennessee.


According to a recent report by Child Trends on the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences nationally, by state, and by race or ethnicity, 56 percent of children in Arkansas have had at least one adverse childhood experience, compared to the national average of 45 percent. In partnership with the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is teaching a graduate-level capstone course that has students conducting research on the impact of ACEs on the state’s residents. The students are also identifying what organizations in other states are doing to both increase public awareness of ACES and address the problem, so that lessons can be applied in Arkansas. Professor Kirk Leach, who is teaching the course, explained on NPR’s All Things Considered that the document will help the state move forward in becoming a leader in addressing ACEs.


Governor Kim Reynolds has signed two bills into law that aim to help address growing mental health issues in the state. According to the Iowa State Daily, the first bill (SF 2113) requires two things: (1) anyone who has regular contact with K-12 students must take an annual suicide prevention course and (2) all trainings include “’evidence-based, evidence-supported’ ways to identify adverse childhood experiences.” The State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council has been lobbying for these changes since 2013.

The second bill (HF 2456) sets up several critical access centers that lawmakers said would help divert those with mental health issues away from jails and towards appropriate treatment. According to the news report, the bill creates six 24-hour mental healthcare centers around the state, 22 community treatment teams, and intensive residential service homes capable of treating as many as 120 members at once.


The state just announced the launch of First Chance Delaware, an initiative that, according to the Dover Post, will “focus its work on ending childhood hunger and expanding access to nutritious food for low-income children; promoting learning readiness through literacy, health and parent-child engagement programs; and advancing the recognition of — and effective responses to — adverse childhood experiences.”

Kansas City, Missouri

The Kansas City Child Abuse Roundtable Coalition designated April 6 as Wear Blue Day to raise awareness of child abuse prevention. According to TV station KSHB, in order to maintain momentum beyond a few days, Cornerstones of Care, which provides behavioral health care services in Missouri and Kansas, has launched a social media campaign entitled #Pledge2Prevent. Those who sign the online pledge must commit to such actions as making discussion of child abuse a year-round effort, engaging with and motivating the community to take action that leads to the prevention of child abuse and neglect, and moving toward reducing the incidences of adverse childhood experiences.