Take one suffering community, season with passionate leadership, a few “aha moments” and a scoop of flexible philanthropy. Stir in training by experts in the field. Whisk together a robust communication strategy and cross-sector collaboration. Sprinkle with compelling local data. Sample frequently; share results generously. Simmer on the front burner. See change happen.
If only there were a single, simple formula for integrating practices based on adverse childhood experiences research. But the five cities and four states highlighted in this cookbook—just a small sampling of the dozens nationwide that are using ACEs research to grow healthier—demonstrate that the process varies widely from place to place.
Will your effort be grass-roots or top-down? Will it be backed by a local foundation or bolstered by government support? Propelled by social workers, pediatricians, school principals or parents? Your recipe for resilience will vary depending on where you live (small town or large city), the scope of your target area (neighborhood, city, county, state, region), the individuals involved and the resources at hand.
Still, just as a savvy home cook stocks pantry staples like canned tomatoes and olive oil, certain “key ingredients” emerge from these communities’ stories:
Leadership and collaboration
- Anyone—a community advocate, a local priest, an artist, a group of pediatricians—can catalyze the beginning of a community’s resilience-building efforts. It can start as an informal exploration or discussion over coffee and grow from there. What’s important is that the individual or group understand the foundational concepts and science of ACEs and be committed to integrating them into all parts of the community. That individual or group may go on to lead, or someone else may be the leader.
- The individual or group identifies and educates a small group (30-50 people) of community leaders about ACES, trauma and resilience. Aim for cross-sector representation (local or state government, education, law enforcement, human services, public health, civic groups).
- The most responsive and enthusiastic members of this group form a “think tank” or steering committee that drives the initial effort. That might be just a handful of people.
- This group can be housed in or hosted by a backbone organization that will provide a stablizing force and provide coordination for the movement.
- Schedule regular public meetings of the steering committee, and make them open to anyone in the community.
- Identify all sectors in the community—and their leaders—that need education about ACEs research and trauma-informed/resilience-building practices.
- Set a goal for all members of your coalition to “walk the talk” of trauma-informed practice in their own agencies and departments; at meetings, leave time for these members to share challenges, questions and triumphs.
- Learn about and develop a “collective impact” model in which multiple groups or agencies share an agenda and goals but approach those goals in different ways.
- Develop a mission statement, goals and a plan of action that your group will review and update every two years.
- Individuals and “think tanks” or steering committees educate themselves through research, networking and attending conferences that often provide “aha moments” about ACEs and their impact.
- Use a train-the-trainer model, developing a cadre of people who can give presentations to a variety of groups, customizing the information for different audiences—physicians, for instance, or parents of young children.
- Educate all identified sectors in the community—police departments, juvenile court judges, childcare workers—that need knowledge about ACEs by arranging presentations and/or inviting them to cross-disciplinary trainings. You’re likely to have to present to the same groups more than once.
- Identify experts in adverse childhood experiences research, as well as experts from communities and sectors that are implementing trauma-informed and resilience-building practices. Invite them to speak to local or regional groups and/or attend conferences at which they are presenting.
- Plan ongoing education opportunities—from monthly “learning circles” to annual ACE Summits—to deepen understanding from “ACEs 101” to more complex ideas about impact and implementation.
- Assess your resources—local funding, meeting space, in-kind support, expertise and enthusiasm.
- Apply to local or regional foundations for initial funding; a small philanthropy may be more flexible than a larger foundation or a government agency.
- Increase your reach by tapping the connections and resources of members of your “think tank” or steering committee. In Arizona, for instance, the ACE Consortium operates without a budget; members donate speaker fees, meeting space, copying and other necessities.
- Seek input from coalition members when allocating the funds you have; in Maine, for example, leaders of the state’s Resilience Building Network (MRBN) decided to use funds for collective projects rather than seeding twenty different local sites.
- As the effort develops, consider the pros and cons of seeking large-scale funding from places such as the Gates Foundation (see Walla Walla story) or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Philadelphia).
- Consider a one-line slogan or tagline for your effort. The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative sought to “bridge the gap between what we know and what we do,” while the Arizona ACE Consortium chose “Strong Communities Raise Strong Kids” as its motto.
- Create tools (PowerPoint presentation, web site, Facebook page, brochures, video to post on YouTube) to share research about ACEs and resilience, inform leaders and the public and provide ways for people to get involved.
- Draft a memorandum of understanding (see Tarpon Springs story) and have local government provide official recognition of its standing as a trauma-informed, resilience-building community.
- Conduct media outreach at every step through traditional news outlets (radio, television, newspapers, magazines), digital media (blogs, online toolkits) and social media.
- Form a local group on ACEsConnection.com.
- Document your efforts (see Walla Walla story) so others can learn from your community’s experience.
- Celebrate progress and successes.
- Identify any trauma-informed or resilience-building efforts already underway in your area, and connect with the leaders of those efforts.
- Do an ACE survey (see Arizona, Iowa, Maine and Philadelphia stories) to set a baseline against which to measure change and to gauge the impact of ACEs in your area. Do a survey to assess providers’ understanding of ACEs/resilience.
- Develop common measures of success and ways to gather feedback—ranging from evaluation sheets at workshops to longitudinal research on changing attitudes and practices (see Alberta story)
- Recognize that deep-rooted attitudes—for example, a belief in individual responsibility and self-sufficiency—may present barriers to understanding ACEs and resilience, and that such attitudes take time to change.
- “Follow the interest” in ACEs education and trauma-informed practices (see Arizona story); be open to “uncommon partners” in the work.
- Let local conditions—high violence rates in Camden, the level of child poverty in Maine—create a sense of urgency and fuel your education efforts.
- Remember that becoming trauma-informed is a long-term process, and that not everyone will “come on board” right away.
- Recognize how past trauma—for instance, a natural disaster, racial or ethnic conflict or the job losses that accompanied the closing of a major employer—affects your community now. Be willing to address these issues in a sensitive and inclusive way.
- “Work small and think big”—that is, to put trauma-informed practices in place in your own coalition and day-to-day work while building alliances and momentum for larger-scale change.
- Focus on hope, resilience and change without losing sight of the deep and long-term impact of childhood adversity. Remember that ACEs are not destiny; if the brain can be hurt, it can also be healed.
- Seek community; nourish yourselves; remember that you are not alone in wishing to create a more just, compassionate and healthy world.