Sarah’s father (Sarah’s name has been changed to ensure confidentiality) was often absent from her life and when he was around, he routinely made bad choices that negatively impacted his young daughter. Her mom did the best she could to help mitigate the fallout, but by her own admission, there was only so much she could do. Sarah required professional help to see her through dark times and lead a productive, healthy life.
Unfortunately, this is an all too common reality for children in New Hampshire and across the country who suffer from Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. ACEs are events in a child’s life which can have serious and lasting impacts on future well-being, success and risk of violence.
ACEs aren’t new. A CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE study conducted from 1995-1997 showed how factors like poverty, violence or neglect may affect a child’s future growth.
An increased number of childhood traumas correlates directly with an increase in the likelihood of engaging in dangerous behavior, negative health impacts and limits on educational and professional potential.
Simply put, the more ACEs a child has, the higher the risk of negative outcomes later in life.
Law enforcement and first responders are often the first faces a child sees after such an experience. In the throes of the addiction epidemic here in New Hampshire, they remain on the front lines dealing with incident after incident, call after call. Increasingly, they are called on to deal with the aftermath and repercussions for children and to work to help those childen recover physically, emotionally and intellectually.
This is not something that law enforcement, health-care providers, school counselors, or child-welfare groups should be expected to contend with on their own. It takes a concerted effort across our communities and disciplines, as well as a recognition that these challenges touch every corner of our state.
In true Granite State fashion, local communities saw the risks ACEs pose and began organizing ACE response teams (ACERTs) to protect our kids and families.
In 2015, Amoskeag Health in Manchester launched ACERT to respond to any incident where first responders were in contact with a child in distress. Once the scene has been secured, the team — consisting of a police officer, a crisis services advocate and a behavioral health professional — assesses and takes steps to help the child before the long-lasting impact of an ACE can take hold.
An ACERT program is being launched in Laconia.
I have had the privilege of discussing the ACERT pilots in both Manchester and Laconia with team members and heard directly from the community about the tangible benefits they have seen. That is why I am proud to have introduced legislation to expand ACERT across the country based on the successful pilots we’ve seen right here in the Granite State.
Manchester Police Chief Carlo Capano is a strong supporter of the program. The legislation provides communities with grant funding to launch these collaborative efforts, and similar legislation has been filed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, in the U.S. Senate.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the work ACERT does each and every day. This program is a priority for us and should be for all communities,” Capano says.
Erin Pettengill, vice president of the Family Resource Center at Lakes Region Community Services, also sees the value and impact of ACERTs. “As a community that has successfully replicated Manchester’s ACERT, we look forward to more communities joining forces to improve outcomes for children,” she says.
Sarah’s mother can attest to this as well. “Sarah has a much better understanding overall and is less frustrated as she now has the tools as a 12 year old to deal with issues that life brings her way now, and in the future,” her mother says of her time with ACERT.
We owe it to kids like Sarah, who have suffered adverse childhood experiences, to give them every chance to not just recover and move forward from trauma but to thrive.
That is why I am hopeful that ACERT can gain the support nationally that it has here in New Hampshire.
We must ensure that children who suffer from adverse experiences are not defined by them any longer and have bright futures ahead.