Awareness Campaign Sounds Alarm on Childhood Trauma's Effects, Urges Coordinated Plan

Nov 9, 2017

From left, Diane Marquess, director of behavioral health services at Family & Children Services in Kalamazoo, and Jennifer Nottingham, associate director of community impact at the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, are part of a local team trying to increase awareness about effects of childhood trauma.
Credit Earlene McMichael | WMUK

That childhood trauma can compromise mental health is not new, but it altering the brain is, says Jennifer Nottingham, associate director of community impact at the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region.

She says it can cause learning and behavioral issues for students and an increased risk for disease through adulthood.

But the good news is, there's ways to mitigate trauma's effects, which is why she says the United Way is hosting free screenings of a documentary on the topic.

On WMUK's WestSouthwest show today, Nottingham joins Diane Marquess, director of behavioral health services at Family & Children's Services in Kalamazoo, to talk about the "Resilience: The Biology of Stress & Science of Hope" documentary, and the ground-breaking federal study upon which it is based. They address solutions, as well. (Press above icon to hear aired interview, one below for longer version.)

A new movement is changing the paradigm from asking 'What's wrong with you?' to 'What happened to you?' -- Jennifer Nottingham, United Way

Both Nottingham and Marquess, representing a multi-agency work group on early childhood development issues convened by the United Way, say it's important that any person, group or agency that interact with children become "trauma informed," and that's where they say this documentary can be helpful. 

"I think one of the key paradigm shifts that the 'trauma informed-building resilience' movement encourages, is changing the paradigm from asking the question...'What's wrong with you?' to 'What happened to you?' " Nottingham says.

The Raising Kalamazoo County work group's eventual hope is to build up a cadre of local trainers who will provide interested groups with customized trainings, at no cost to them, to increase awareness about and strategies for dealing with adverse childhood experiences, known as "ACES," organizers say.

With more than 17,000 participants, the Centers for Disease Control-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study was conducted in the 1990s and is one of the largest examinations of childhood abuse and neglect and their impact on health in adulthood.

Want to see the "Resilience" documentary? It'll be shown Nov. 14 & Dec. 11 in Kalamazoo

The "Resilience" documentary centers on the study's findings and on what communities are doing to prevent childhood trauma and to reduce its effects. It made its world premiere in 2016 at the Sundance Film Festival. Nottingham says the strength of the documentary is that it makes complicated information understandable.

Among many things that the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Study found is that, the more ACES a child has experienced, the higher the likelihood of various cancers, heart disease, suicide, alcoholism and cigarette smoking later, Nottingham says. Trauma also shows up in the classroom as trouble focusing, even aggressive behavior towards peers that can cause a high suspension rate and contribute to a school-to-prison pipeline.

But there's hope: One of the greatest ways to offset trauma's impact is having at least one caring adult in a child's life, such as a mentor, which Marquess and Nottingham say is a key message in the film.

So far, the "Resilience" film has been shown twice in Kalamazoo. A third screening is 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14 at the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine. There'll be a fourth showing from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 11 at the KRESA headquarters in Portage. Admission is free, but seating is limited so advance registration is required. Click on the locations above to be directed to online signup. 

More screenings will continue to be scheduled at least through 2018, Nottingham says.