Rural Kentucky Schools Tackle Childhood Trauma

Nov 28, 2022 at 10:54 am
Around one in five Kentucky children have experienced at least one type of ACE, according to data from the National Survey of Children's Health. (Adobe Stock)
Around one in five Kentucky children have experienced at least one type of ACE, according to data from the National Survey of Children's Health. (Adobe Stock)

This story was originally published by Public News Service.

Russell County teachers, staff, counselors and bus drivers have received intensive training on the effects of childhood trauma on kids' mental and physical health since 2019.

Today, elementary school suspensions have decreased by 50%, and more kids report feeling safe, cared for, and feel they "belong" at school.

Amalia Mendoza, senior policy and advocacy officer at the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which provided grant funding for the Bounce Rural Adverse Childhood Experiences Project, said rural communities face different challenges in reducing behavioral issues stemming from adverse childhood experiences.

"We're talking about toxic stress, we're not talking about just any adversity," Mendoza pointed out. "There's really that kind of stress that is ongoing, and that can produce changes even in the brain and in the immune system."

According to the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, nearly 40% of kids in the U.S. have been exposed to at least one adverse childhood experience, such as neglect or abuse, living with someone with a drug, alcohol or serious mental-health problem, the death of a parent, or exposure to violence or discrimination in the home or community.

Tracy Aaron, director of health education for the Lake Cumberland District Health Department, explained adverse childhood experiences have been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and mental-health problems; all conditions prevalent in the region and across Kentucky.

"In the Lake Cumberland district, if you look at the data that backs up ACEs," Aaron observed, "we have a very high rate of poverty, we have teen pregnancy. Substance use is an issue."

Michael Ford, superintendent of Russell County Schools, said schools cannot fix family problems, but they can work to remove barriers affecting academic performance and provide spaces where students see de-escalation, self-care and effective problem-solving techniques, and healthy relationships.

"We want our kids to be resilient, right?" Ford stated. "Number one, we want to prevent anything that we can help prevent. Kids, regardless, are going to have ACEs, but ACEs do not have to hold them back."

Ford added successful strategies in the district include parent and grandparent training on how to build kids' resilience, increasing support for school counselors, and changing discipline policies.

Disclosure: The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Health Issues, and Smoking Prevention. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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