Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is California’s first surgeon general.

With the goal of moving the needle in addressing ACES, state teams from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wyoming participated in a four-hour National Governors Association online event to learn about Tennessee’s efforts to prevent ACEs and mitigate their negative effects.  State teams, comprised of representatives from their governor’s office as well as child-serving agencies and criminal justice, also heard from Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s first surgeon general, who talked about the state’s ACEs Aware Initiative, a first-of-its-kind effort to develop the capacity of health care providers to screen their patients for ACEs and link individuals and families to supports.

“The NGA identified Tennessee as a model state for addressing ACEs and reached out to Building Strong Brains Tennessee to share its lessons learned,” said Richard Kennedy, Executive Director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY).  “We were honored and, of course, wanted to ensure that the great work being done in Shelby County would be represented as well. So, of course, we looked to the ACE Awareness Foundation to fill that role.”

During the session, participants learned about Building Strong Brains Tennessee, a statewide effort to promote culture change through an evidence-based approach to preventing and mitigating ACEs and their impact. “The initiative was developed drawing on evidence from neurodevelopment and communications science,” said Jennifer Drake-Croft, TCCY’s Director of Child Well-Being, who added that it employs strong public-private partnerships to implement innovative practices in sustainable ways, leverages cross-agency collaboration to provide state leadership, and supports regional and community-based work through such efforts as its training for trainers program and Community Innovations grants.

In describing the ACEs-related work being conducted in Shelby County, Dr. Renée Wilson-Simmons, Executive Director of ACE Awareness Foundation, shared the story of how the foundation came to be and the work in which it is currently engaged.

“There’s so much to be proud of and to lift up,” said Dr. Wilson-Simmons.  “The Universal Parenting Places are always at the top of the list for me,” she added, “because they’re the first of their kind in the nation, places where parents, grandparents, and other family caregivers of children can receive professional counseling with a licensed therapist; information, emotional support; and referrals for family-related issues.  And they can also participate in stress-reduction and parent-child bonding activities — all at no cost.

“Of course, now that we’re dealing with a pandemic, the UPPs are following the rules and social distancing. But the UPPs are needed now more than ever, and they have met the challenge by continuing to offer counseling, but via telehealth, and the in-person activities have been replaced by online programming via Facebook Live. Among the offerings are parent support groups; yoga, meditation, and mindfulness; and toddler/preschool story time.”

“Here’s what you know, because you have the Universal Parenting Places there in Memphis: Many of [the education and health] resources that are needed already exist; it’s about coordinating.”

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

Dr. Wilson-Simmons added that although she could not talk about everything ACEs- and trauma-related going on, she was able to cite several efforts.  Among them were Dr. Eraina Schauss and her University of Memphis Brain Center team that is leading a landmark clinical trial of neurofeedback therapy for adolescents struggling to overcome chronic childhood trauma; the Family Resilience Initiative of the University Le Bonheur Pediatric Specialists and Le Bonheur Community Health and Well-Being, Maternal Child Department; the United Way of the Mid-South’s Building a Trauma-Sensitive Community project, which leads cohorts of nonprofit agency executives through a one-year program; Dr. Altha Stewart’s work at the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth; and the Rotary Family Youth Initiative, which is focused on significantly reducing the number of justice system-involved youth.

Closing out the presentations before state teams began their work, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris described California’s ACEs Aware Initiative and the ways it has been possible for Medicaid providers to receive training, clinical protocols, and payment for screening children and adults for ACEs.