The National Resilience Institute Brings the Community Together to Discuss ACEs & Childhood Trauma
On the evening of April 26, the golden doors of the historic Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids, Iowa opened to welcome the community for a free screening of the film Resilience: the Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope. The documentary chronicles the beginnings of a national movement to prevent childhood trauma, treat Toxic Stress, and improve the health of future generations. The term resilience also describes this community. In June of 2008, this same area was hit with a severe flood that damaged the very building they were sitting in.
Nearly 200 people in attendance were welcomed by Gabriella Torres, the Director of Strategy & Innovation for the National Resilience Institute (NRI). She introduced Dr. Mollie Marti, the President, and CEO of NRI.
Dr. Marti explained how NRI began as a community resiliency project in the 2010-11 school year when the community lost 3 teenagers to suicide within six months. Nearby areas were also experiencing tragic losses and natural disasters. NRI began to do the research, listen to the needs of the people, and create opportunities for cross-sector conversations. Through this work focusing on student, community, and military resilience, they are now able to take this information nationally and internationally to train and support others before, during, and after trauma.
The Science of Hope
In collaboration with the Children’s Bureau of the US Department of Health and Human Services, NRI and organizations across the country were able to show the film as part of the National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The film explains that exposure to stressful experiences in childhood can alter brain development and have lifelong effects on health and behavior. An Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study revealed this public health revelation and inspired the filmmaker to bring these findings to life.
To learn more about the film read our blog here.
The documentary emphasizes that children should be taught that experiencing trauma is not the norm and learn how to express themselves. In the film, a teacher uses letter writing exercises to help children express what they have witnessed and practices with the students a call and response list of things that are not okay for a child to experience. The film ended by giving examples of communities that incorporated ACEs and trauma-informed care to foster positive change in outcomes such as the rate of suicide among youth and domestic violence.
Engaging with the Community About Childhood Trauma
Following the film screening, our distinguished panelists made their way to the stage to discuss the documentary and engage in a community forum. Panelists included:
Stacey Walker, County Supervisor and Safe, Equitable, and Thriving Communities Task Force
Liz Cox, Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Iowa
Melissa Reeves, Ph.D., President of the National Association of School Psychologists
Ana M. Clymer, Community Building Manager (Health), United Way of East Central Iowa
Dr. Mollie Marti served as the forum moderator and the audience also asked questions. Liz Cox framed the way ACEs relates to the Iowa community by sharing information from the 2016 ACEs report that examines three years of data collected among adult Iowans. Cox shared that 56 percent of Iowa adults report at least one adverse childhood experience. About 15 percent of Iowa adults experienced four or more types of childhood trauma and 25 percent of children in Iowa have experienced toxic stress.
Knowing this information, it is important to share what can be done to help. Liz Cox suggested making changes to policy, creating a common language, and vision around this work. She also said it’s important to look out for other kids, not only your own. There are laws throughout the country that hold professionals accountable to report cases of suspected child abuse and neglect.
One teacher from the audience wanted to know practical ways to apply what she learned from the film in her classroom. Dr. Reeves suggested creating an environment where a student knows it is safe to talk to their teacher. In reference to a student presenting a behavioral issue in the classroom, start with the question “What happened?” instead of immediate punishment. “Punishment alone does not change behavior,” said Reeves.
“Thank you, National Resilience Institute for the hearty conversation tonight on ACEs, education policy, resilience and the power of community connection.” – Ashley Burns
Another audience member asked for advice on helping to explain to professionals that the effects of toxic stress on children are real. Dr. Melissa Reeves responded, “System change is not easy, but it does start with a few individuals.” Reeves advised finding someone in that school or district that is open to hearing that message. Ana M. Clymer mentioned the importance of identifying and using the resources available in the community.
When discussing change, one topic that is bound to come up is finances. One member of the community asked, “What can be done with cuts in budgets?” Reeves responded it becomes necessary to be creative with the funding that is available. Stacey Walker also discussed the importance of educating not only the public but also elected officials about this information. He stated, “This information needs to be in their minds when voting.”
Dr. Marti also addressed the popular Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. Knowing the number of families in the room, she felt it was important to talk about it with the experts available to comment. As the president of the National Association of School Psychologists, Dr. Reeves witnessed first hand the immediate uptick in calls and emails from their network as a result of youth exposure to the show. NASP has since created a resource to help educators and parents with discussing the series.
We are thankful for the community being engaging and staying informed. We are also grateful to the numerous sponsors and partners that helped make this event a success.
“Thank you, National Resilience Institute for leading important community conversations about ACEs, education, prevention, and policy.” – Liz Cox