Washington communities reduce trauma effects through public-private partnerships

A new study commissioned by the Adverse Childhood Experiences Public-Private Initiative (APPI) of Washington state finds that communities can create effective, local strategies that reduce the long-term social, emotional and physical problems related to abuse, neglect and other Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Results of the evaluation were covered in a New York Times article on how to stem childhood trauma.

Research shows that the prevalence of 10 specific ACEs — such as witnessing domestic violence or experiencing physical abuse — trigger a stress response that can harm a child’s developing brain. That stress and trauma weakens the immune system, increasing the risk of social, emotional and health problems in later life, such as suicide, substance abuse, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Despite modest investments and limited staff, several rural communities in Washington were able to weave together innovative programs that help decrease the social, emotional and physical problems linked to trauma.

For example, in Walla Walla, new approaches to discipline at Lincoln High School led to increases in graduation rates. In the Skagit Valley, nurse home visits helped decrease smoking and alcohol use among expectant mothers and reduce the number of babies with low birth weight. A public awareness campaign in Okanagan County led to a drop of 10 percentage points in teen drinking.

“This work is an important demonstration of the kinds of progress and positive results that can be generated from cost-effective public-private partnerships in the community,” said Greg Williamson, an assistant director at the Washington Department of Early Learning, an APPI member. “It is helping create a picture of how to improve well-being for children and families.”

APPI is an innovative collaboration of 20 public, private and community organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Casey Family Programs, Empire Health Foundation, the Thomas V. Giddens Jr. Foundation, and the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, that seeks to understand and share the policies, programs and approaches that help prevent and mitigate the effects of ACEs on families.

The study was a three-year effort conducted by APPI along with its evaluation partners, Mathematica Policy Research and Community Science, to assess the impact of five community networks and coalitions around Washington.

The community networks and coalitions are:

  • The Coalition for Children & Families of North Central Washington
  • Okanogan County Community Coalition
  • Skagit County Child & Family Consortium
  • Walla Walla County Community Network/Children’s Resilience Initiative
  • Whatcom Family & Community Network.