By Greta Hittle

I recently had the opportunity to chat with folks around Kentucky about the work being done to prevent and mitigate adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). These folks included state representatives, medical professionals, care and service providers, teachers, counselors, advocates, public health experts, and mental and behavioral health professionals.

Just when I thought I had heard every perspective and learned every nuance, I would speak with another one of these folks and realize the ripple effect that ACEs have on individuals is a complex problem with many roots. 

How do we prevent ACEs in the first place? Do we focus our efforts in childhood? And if we want to focus on childhood, don’t we also need to support our parents? And when does parental support make the most sense? Prenatal? Postpartum? In young adulthood? When a baby is just a glimmer in a young adult’s eye? Teaching parenting skills long before parenthood comes to fruition? 

My head would spin like this for hours after some conversations. Let me help you avoid the vertigo and give you the answer to each of these questions now: Yes. Yes, we need to support children. Yes, we need to support parents. Yes, we need to provide this support early and often and in a variety of ways. Preventing and mitigating ACEs will take all of this and all of us. As one person put it, “it’s a marathon and a sprint.” We have to address the causes of trauma and the impact of trauma, simultaneously. Below are just a few of the good, common sense policy ideas for beginning to prevent ACEs. 

First, let’s support families at every stage of life by increasing economic security. Nearly everyone I spoke with told me how a state earned income tax credit and raising the minimum wage could help move families out of poverty – a root cause of ACEs. Across Kentucky, 22.3% of children live in poverty. Which is another way of saying that 22.3% of families in our state live in poverty. Imagine the change in all those families’ and children’s lives if we open the door to economic security for them.

Second, let’s ensure that all those who interact with children and families are trained to provide trauma-informed, strength-based care. Teachers across the state are already doing a good job of this but what about our community centers and churches, juvenile justice and healthcare professionals, police officers, social workers… As one person put it, “ACEs and trauma affect us all. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you make.” I would love to live in a state that is trauma-informed from bottom to top, root to bloom

Lastly, let’s shift the way we view, discuss, and treat mental and behavioral health. Requiring insurance plans to cover ACEs screenings and providing funding for more mental healthcare providers at all levels of care are just a couple of ways we can do better. Normalizing and prioritizing mental and behavioral healthcare can not only help treat the impact of ACEs but prevent ACEs before they occur. 

These few policy changes can begin to address root causes of ACEs. Over time, these policies, along with others, will help the state of Kentucky prevent ACEs from occurring in the first place. Let’s start now and watch how future generations grow!

Learn more about Bloom Kentucky, an initiative to addresses the multi-generational challenges of childhood adversity, how communities can help foster opportunities for all kids and families, and the future of Kentucky’s workforce and prosperity.