To illustrate the impact of what’s known as Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, and the power of overcoming their impact, Peter Buckley tells the story of a young boy at Orchard Hill Elementary in Medford.
The child could not sit still for more than a few minutes at a time, nor could he remain silent for long stretches like most of his peers. As a result, the classroom interruptions were constant.
Then, the teacher tried something called the “good behavior game,” which teaches students to “flip on their internal focus switch” in order to “self-regulate during both learning and fun,” according to goodbehaviorgame.org.
By the end of the school year, says Buckley, the boy was able to sit through class all day.
“A remarkable change,” says Buckley, a longtime Ashland resident whose tenure as an Oregon state representative will end in early January after he did not seek re-election. “And how did they do it? They had to meet him where he was.”
Buckley recently expounded on the subject before a group of people gathered at the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ashland for the Rogue Valley New Day Network’s monthly potluck breakfast. He highlighted the benefits of an ACEs-based approach to education and other sectors that focus on children, such as mental health and corrections.
Buckley is now the program manager for Southern Oregon Success, a nonprofit organization that bills itself as “a collective impact effort embracing trauma-informed practices to improve outcomes for children, youth and their families.”
“Once people have this information to work with, they’re putting together these partnerships across sectors that I think are going to be very effective,” says Buckley, whose organization provides trauma-informed training sessions and events at no cost to schools, agencies, businesses and community groups.
“So my goal is to get this information out and make sure people understand the impact that they can have and then work with people as they come forward with their ideas on what might work in their organization or their community.”
Much of the information Buckley referred to comes from a two-year study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1995 to 1997 that surveyed more than 17,000 people regarding their childhood experiences and current health and behaviors. The results showed that as an individual’s adverse childhood experiences increase, so does the risk for a long list of lifetime struggles, including alcoholism, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, fetal death, health-related quality of life, drug use, liver disease, poor work performance, financial stress and intimate partner violence.
Breaking down the data and all of its implications, Buckley says, is only the first step.
“The science is about 17 years old,” he says, “but it’s similar to the climate-change science in that people didn’t really start to fully understand what it meant until almost a generation passed and the impact started to become so clear that people said, ‘Wow, we have to pay attention to this, we have to use this science as part of our work.’ ”
Washington state did exactly that through a statewide initiative in the 1990s cited by Buckley as proof of the potential of an organized, informed approach regarding the impact of adverse childhood experiences.
“They really went after this on a communitywide basis and they’ve seen results such as, over 12 years, the graduation rate has gone up by 43 percent, teen suicides have gone down by 90 percent,” Buckley says. “Across the board they’ve had really positive outcomes. (Oregon) looked at that model, and as it turns out we’re not the only people looking at that model. Twenty-four states now have programs using this approach to try to do community-building with this as our common vocabulary.
“The amazing thing that happened in the Washington experience was once they started to get the information out into the community, all sorts of really creative collaborations came up around it. And the thing that’s happening here, we’ve got some wonderful collaborations happening in both Jackson and Josephine counties.”
— Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.