May is National Trauma Awareness Month; to mark the occasion, WCASA reached out to our ally and colleague Jennifer Jones, Interim Executive Director at the Wisconsin Children’s Trust Fund for some insight and context.
Ms. Jones, a native of Beaver Dam, graduated from Marquette University with a BS in Social Work. Her work has taken her to Boston and then back to Wisconsin again, spanning the past twenty years.
(Stephen Montagna, Violence Prevention and Communications Coordinator) What drew you to children, children’s health & safety, and your work in this movement?
Jennifer Jones: The devastating impact of poverty on children and families, in particular is what drew me to the social work field. I immediately packed up my belongings the day after graduation and drove to Boston to begin my professional career immersed in addressing hunger and homelessness. After 8 years in Boston, I moved back to Wisconsin and with continued focus on improving the lives of children, began working specifically in the child welfare arena with the Department of Health and Family Services. The more deeply I engaged in child welfare practice and systems, the greater my awareness grew of the connection of poverty to child abuse and neglect and the importance of prevention. After several years in deep-end system work, I was hired to serve as the Associate Director of the Wisconsin Children’s Trust Fund with the responsibility for advancing a statewide agenda to promote child abuse and neglect prevention. In essence, I’ve been working with children and family related issues for my entire 20-year professional career.
What sort of connection does National Trauma Awareness Month have to the work of the CTF?
JJ: I think drawing attention to trauma is important – not just during this month but throughout the entire year. Trauma Awareness Month provides a venue for raising the issue of trauma on a broader level. The Children’s Trust Fund is particularly interested in trauma as it relates to children who are abused or neglected by their caregivers. I commend the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault for using this month of May to expand the focus to include trauma associated with violence and abuse.
What is the significance of the ACE study and how does it relate to the work of CTF?
JJ: The original Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study conducted by Drs. Rob Anda and Vincent Felitti from 1995-1997 was the first large scale study of its kind to document the significant and profound relationship that child abuse and neglect and other adverse experiences have on later adult physical and mental health outcomes. In 2010, in partnership with the Child Abuse Prevention Fund of Children’s Hospital, and the Departments of Health Services and Children and Families, CTF raised funds to include the ACE module in the Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Survey. For the first time, we were able to examine and understand the prevalence and impact of adverse childhood experiences among Wisconsin adults. Our findings mimic those of the original ACE study – 56% of Wisconsin adults reported growing up with at least one ACE. The findings showed that certain ACEs were highly correlated with an ACE score of 4 or more. For example, of those individuals who reported growing up with a household member that was incarcerated, 64% reported having experienced at least 4 ACEs. Incarceration of a family member goes hand in hand with a number of other ACEs. For the Children’s Trust Fund, this raises a critical question about prevention – if we work with children now who are growing up with an incarcerated family member, can we mitigate exposure to additional adverse childhood experiences and ultimately reduce the negative outcomes associated with higher number of ACEs? The ACE findings – both the original study and Wisconsin’s data highlight why prevention efforts are so critical. If we can reduce the number of adverse experiences earlier in the lives of children, I believe, we can have a significant impact not only on their individual lives but on the many systems that serve them.
What are the connections between the work of the CTF and the sexual assault advocacy and violence prevention movement?
JJ: The Wisconsin ACE data demonstrated that ACEs tend to indicate a greater likelihood of other traumatic experiences. This is particularly notable given the CTF focus on prevention. Among those who were sexually abused, 28% have 2-3 ACEs and 57% have 4 or more ACEs. In addition, the strongest association in the Wisconsin data was between ACEs and mental health, particularly pronounced among adults reporting childhood physical and sexual abuse. Among adults who reported sexual abuse, the odds of frequent mental distress more than doubled. Frequent mental distress is defined as experiencing 14 or more “bad mental health days” out of the past 30 days. In a recent study by Cassandra Simmel, Et.Al., examining the relationship between the experience and disclosure of childhood sexual abuse and subsequent adult sexual violence, found that physical force during the childhood sexual abuse experience was significant in adult revictimization experiences. Consistently the research shows links between child maltreatment and sexual assault victimization. There’s a lot we can do together to have a positive impact on the lives of children and families in our state. This work is well underway through the Forward Wisconsin Initiative [PDF download], a collaboration working to enhance efforts to change social norms and community tolerance for violence. This collaboration includes representatives from the Wisconsin Departments of Health Services and Children and Families, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Governor’s Council on Domestic Abuse, the Child Abuse Prevention Fund of Children’s Hospital, Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Children’s Trust Fund.
What opportunities might National Trauma Awareness Month present to CTF, child safety advocates, and violence prevention practitioners to raise awareness and extend the reach of their messaging?
JJ: Awareness, in itself can be healing. The more individuals are aware of trauma and its impact on their physical and mental health, the greater their ability to begin recovery and healing from traumatic experiences. Dedicating a specific month to building and generating awareness of trauma is a vital component in the broader outreach and educational campaign. The ACE & Trauma Workgroup, convened by the Children’s Trust Fund and composed of key experts statewide has identified public awareness and education as a key priority for 2013 and beyond. However, it’s critical to take this work beyond building awareness by offering individuals and agencies meaningful strategies to address trauma in their individual lives and in the lives of clients. I look forward to a future theme and focus of National Trauma Awareness Month on adverse childhood experiences and the resulting impact on the health and well-being of children and families throughout Wisconsin.