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The #ChildrenCanThrive  campaign seeks to transform our response to the public health crisis of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their long term effects.

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California Policy Convening on Childhood Adversity

December 10, 2015   |   Mary Kelly Persyn

The convening opened with a reception featuring Principal Godwin Higa's stories about his Cherokee Point Elementary School in San Diego. Some of his students have seen very tough times and bring them to school. But guess what? Cherokee Point doesn't expel ANYONE--they heal instead. Here's me watching a movie of his precious kids running around the school and smiling ear to hear. Stories like this sketch our souls; they matter.

So, down to business. The Center for Youth Wellness had a room stuffed full of the best and brightest child trauma advocates in California. Did we make the time count? Oh yeah. Here's the agenda for change, courtesy of Dr. Nadine Burke Harris and our ACEs colleagues across California:

And here are the points from the Convening that really stayed with me:

1. Safety and health are linked: most juvenile offenders are also crime victims, and we're not doing enough to protect our communities' kids from childhood adversity. 

CYW-2015_344.jpgThis is Lenore Anderson, leader of Californians for Safety and Justice. She knocked me right over with one simple point: kids harm others because they've been harmed.

As if that weren't bad enough, young people of color bear the heaviest burden of violence. We spend a dumbfounding amount on prisons, but we can't keep our kids from getting attacked on the way to school. Many of them are victimized repeatedly, and many juvenile justice offenders have experienced overwhelming exposure to childhood adversity. We have to do better. 

Lenore to California advocates: don't just sit there! Do something with the money we're saving by reducing incarceration!

Healing juvenile offenders supports their long-term well-being and recovery from the violence they likely suffered. Crime survivors and their advocates are on board too.

2. Children are children, not small adults
. Science continues to reconfirm this point. Trauma affects brain development, but it's also a fact that child and adolescent brains haven't fully matured, regardless. Further, studies show that when white people are shown pictures of children, our evaluation of the children's ages is heavily inflected by race: we white people think children of color are older than they actually are. If we want all our children to grow up healed and healthy, we need to understand that they are, in fact, kids. That means that kids demonstrating the impacts of child adversity in school settings need empathy and appropriate services--not handcuffs--regardless of their race or gender.

3. We must have a diverse workforce to adequately address childhood adversity.CYW-2015_330.jpg

Our workforce must be not simply trauma-informed, but diverse. This really matters. Our backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities structure the way we see the world. Empathy only gets us part of the way to healing. In juvenile justice, education, pediatric medicine--anywhere we touch children's welfare--we must be diverse. That's the only way we get to equity: "just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential." (Credit PolicyLink, with thanks to Dalila Butler.)

4. Support parents. You don't have to be a parent to know it's tough to raise kids in this frenetic culture and tough economy. Want better outcomes for children? Consider both generations.

CYW-2015_238.jpg5. Joy. Yes, joy. You might think a convening on child trauma would be a real downer. Nope--this meeting was the opposite. 

Why? Because we child advocates gathered here were creating hope. We count child trauma survivors among our numbers, among our family and friends. We know what resilience is. We can help others come back. We've learned that the opposite of trauma's isolation and despair isn't happiness; it's joy--the deepest kind of creativity in community. And it's in our faces. Look:

 Of course beach balls, because San Diego.



CYW-2015_420.jpgThe post-convening get-down is now a Center for Youth Wellness tradition. And c'mon, who doesn't love them some Earth Wind & Fire?

And so we all took an intense, deep dive into the "root of the root" and emerged inspired. Some of us carry within us the hearts of the suffering children we once were. We all carry within us the precious hearts of the children we are privileged to serve. I'll let ee cummings have the last word on that. Signing off till next time--in health and hope.

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
--ee cummings

Mary Kelly Persyn is a member of the Center for Youth Wellness Board of Directors