First 5 Alameda County receives CA grant to join adverse childhood experiences awareness initiative

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The California surgeon general’s office and the Department of Health Care Services recently awarded First 5 Alameda County a $325,470 grant to participate in the state’s ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, Aware initiative.

The grant, announced Thursday, will go toward training about ACEs for MediCal providers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, according to a press release. Help Me Grow, a First 5 Alameda County program, will continue partnering with local health care providers to help them and their staff understand the connection between trauma and child development, in order to expand trauma-informed care in the area, according to Loren Farrar, senior administrator of Help Me Grow.

“Help Me Grow in Alameda County has a long history of partnering with health care providers in the community,” Farrar said. “It was a natural evolution of our work for our providers to also do ACEs screening in addition to the screenings we already do.”

The term ACEs is used to describe 10 categories of adversities children may experience by the age of 18, including family violence, physical abuse, parental separation, emotional neglect and mental illness in the family, among others, according to the ACEs Aware website.

A large study that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente conducted from 1995 to 1997 showed exposure to ACEs could correlate to many negative physical and mental health outcomes, according to UC Berkeley psychology professor Stephen Hinshaw.

Psychologists, however, are still unsure how exactly certain ACEs interact together with other risks and factors, and thus cannot predict such outcomes precisely, Hinshaw said in an email.

In the first five years of life, 95% of a child’s brain develops, according to First 5 Alameda County spokesperson Erika Kuempel. Because of this development, Kuempel added, children that age are very vulnerable to disruption in their lives.

“We’re hoping that our most vulnerable children are adequately screened early for trauma,” Farrar said. “Our goal is, ultimately, that we’re positioning them for better health and success throughout their lifetime.”

Provider training will utilize the Pediatric ACEs Screening and Related Life Events Screener, a state-recommended ACEs training tool for children, according to Farrar.

Help Me Grow will reach between 300 and 400 providers within about 25 practices for the program, Farrar said. The screening and care “really requires everyone,” from front office staff to doctors themselves, to understand ACEs, according to Farrar.

Working with health care providers will raise awareness about how ACEs can influence a child’s long-term outcomes, according to Kuempel.

“We know that children in our county are dealing with trauma,” Kuempel said. “We hope that this is really going to bolster the system of care for children and especially around this practice of trauma-informed care.”

Contact Vani Suresh at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @vanisuresh_.