Oped by Commissioner Cook
Toxic stress during childhood impedes the brain’s development to grow and to organize efficiently and effectively. ACEs can lead to chronic disease, disability and social problems throughout someone’s life.
ACEs can reduce a person’s lifetime by 20 years since people with an ACE score of four are twice as likely to be smokers and seven times more likely to be alcoholics, increasing the risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent. Suicide risk increases by 1,200 percent.
The Juvenile Center recently began collaborating with other community partners like Bluebonnet Trails, a mental health care provider, to implement the Resilient Wilco initiative to reduce the impact of childhood traumas and build a more resilient future for our communities.
Juvenile Center staff worked with these partners to develop Resilient Wilco, and they jointly provide training on toxic stress based on the ACE Study and other resources.
Since 1998, about 70 additional research papers on ACEs have been published.
The findings are gaining national momentum. In 2018, 60 Minutes aired a program with Oprah Winfrey on how children who have experienced trauma are much more likely to have physical, mental and social difficulties as adults.
A youth who is 16 may function in decision-making like an 8-year-old but displays the “street smarts” of a 30-year-old.
Realizing this, Juvenile Justice staff fundamentally changed how they viewed the children’s behavior and adjusted how they interact with them, while still maintaining that necessary discipline.
Getting every kid engaged in what they call a SPARK activity is a method proving successful.
The SPARK program fosters behavioral change by helping youth identify their passions and matching them with people and organizations that can fill these interests like art, music or sports.
SPARK also helps troubled youth build healthy relationships with role model adults like YMCA coaches as they pursue basketball.
Community members have embraced the program and the kids. Some donate guitars and lessons, others involve the kids in community sports or other programs, and the list keeps growing.
Toxic stress is passed from generation to generation, so childhood times are the windows of opportunity for building resilience and breaking that cycle.
But Smith’s efforts don’t end with juveniles in custody. He and other non-profits are taking Resilient Wilco to the community by providing free training to those involved with children.
The classes target principals, assistant principals, moms’ groups, day care centers, law enforcement and anyone else who is interested. Education professionals from Round Rock, Leander and Jarrell Independent School Districts have received this training.
The Healthy Williamson County coalition trained 175 participants in April at its annual conference on Building a Resilient Community and made “Building a Resilient Williamson County” number 5 of its top five health priorities.
To request training assistance from Resilient Wilco in ACEs and Resilience, contact Dorothy Light of Bluebonnet Trails Community Services at [email protected] To learn more about the project, visit http://www.healthywilliamsoncounty.org/resilientwilco.
Resilient Wilco is viewed as the pathway to recovery and healing, especially for youth.
A healthy and safe community depends on resilient residents. Join me in supporting and getting involved in this great effort.