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Searching for mental scars: Snoqualmie Community Network’s annual Leaders Summit explores childhood trauma

Kids are resilient, they bounce back from traumatic events and go on, often unaffected. So the popular wisdom says, but a growing number of people, among them researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic, and concerned citizens in the Snoqualmie Valley, strongly disagree.

“We’ve got the neurology that says no, that’s not true,” said Ryan Lewis, spokesperson for the Snoqualmie Valley Community Network (snoqualmievalleycommunitynetwork.org).

He’s referring to the research inspired by the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study of 17,000 people begun in 1995. The study, an ongoing assessment of the long-term health effects of a range of childhood traumas, revealed that less than a third of Americans did not suffer an ACE in childhood. Brain scans of study subjects affected by early adversity, or those with a higher ACE score, show markedly less functions in some areas of the brain than do scans of participants with zero scores.

“Our brains grow until we’re about 25,” Lewis said, adding that any sustained upsetting experience, 20 minutes or more, can destroy developing cells in the brain, and the effect of that might not be known until early adulthood.

The issue of early childhood adversities, such as suffering or witnessing verbal, physical or sexual abuse, or chemical dependency, poverty, or the divorce of parents, Lewis says, “is becoming arguably the most deciding factor in public health.”

It is also the issue that community members will tackle  from 9 a.m. to noon, Monday, Aug. 13, at the Riverview Learning Center in Carnation, at the Community Network’s annual Key Leaders Summit. The summit typically brings together interested individuals for a session of networking and brainstorming solutions to some of the area’s pressing issues, but this year’s event will focus on the results of the ACE study, and on how at least one organization, ACEs Too High, is trying to address the social issues caused by adverse childhood experiences.

“When we focus efforts on preventing ACEs, we generate unprecedented positive impacts in people’s lives because ACEs are the most powerful determinate of the public’s health,” said Laura Porter, the keynote speaker for the summit. Porter is the former director of the state’s Family Policy Council and currently is director of ACE Partnerships for the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Following her presentation, participants will split into smaller groups and, using the World Cafe model (www.theworldcafe.com/leadership.html), discuss the local impact and opportunities for change surrounding the issue. The morning will end with each subgroups’ reports to the full group, and, Lewis hopes, the forging of new connections between participants.

“We want to tap in to the collective intelligence of the group,” he explained. “That’s what we call ‘capacity building,’ which is creating a self-sufficiency, and a community ability to respond to its own needs, especially in the cases where it’s stressed in some ways.”

Anyone interested in the summit is welcome to attend. Laura Smith, executive director of the network, explains   the network believes “the solution is in the community,” and the network’s working definition of a leader is anyone who shows up to participate.

The summit begins at 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 13, at the Riverview Learning Center, 32302 N.E. 50th St., Carnation.

For more information on the summit, or to register, visit www.keyleaderssummit.eventbrite.com.  Learn more about the ACE study at http://www.cdc.gov/ace/index.htm, and about ACEs Too High at acestoohigh.com.

 

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