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The ISF Blog

You Say You Want a Revolution?
 ACEs Prompt New Thinking about Human Suffering and Strength

Martha's picture
Written by Martha
Published on 8/16/2013

A revolution is under way, a ground-shift in the way we think about health and illness, human suffering and strength. It is a revolution with the potential to reshape physical and mental health care practices, schools, social services, juvenile justice systems, communities, families and individual lives.

That was the passionate consensus of the First National Summit on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), co-hosted by ISF and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in May 2013.

Our goal for the Summit and symposium, held at the Independence Visitor Center in Philadelphia and attended by over 200 physicians, nurses, researchers, policy makers, grant makers and child advocates from across the country, was to advance the national dialogue on ACEs, trauma, toxic stress and resilience.

In two packed days and an evening symposium, Summit attendees shared expertise, compared notes, asked questions and discussed the research, policy and practice implications of ACEs. You can view video of the keynote discussions and panel discussions ,  download copies of the keynote speakers’ and panelists’ powerpoint presentations, view a four-minute slide show here of the summit participants.

There is also an Overview Report that contains the agendas for the Summit, along with short biographies of our speakers and a complete list of participants. They came from California and Maine, Washington and Florida, bringing stories and data that underscored the conclusions of the original ACE study in 1998—that childhood adversity changes the way children and adults learn, play, live and grow.

Conference attendees, many of whom work directly with children and adults affected by violence, abuse, family disruption and other forms of toxic stress, knew that grim news well. And yet, the overriding message of the Summit was one of hope: ACEs are not destiny, but opportunity. If the human brain can be hurt, it can also heal.

One participant wrote in an evaluation, “The program was practical, passionate, tangible, inspiring and enriched by the audience—filled with people doing the work, not just learning about ACEs for the first time.” Survey results from the Summit were overwhelmingly positive, with 94% of respondents saying the Summit was worthwhile and 82% saying they would take action based on what they’d learned. A full summary of the surveys and comments is included at the end of the Overview Report.

And the work continues—in pediatricians’ offices, in community health centers, in county and state health departments, in policy circles, in schools, in prisons, among grant makers and here at ISF. As Susan Dreyfus, president and CEO of Families International, said at the Summit, “We have to be chronically dissatisfied until we know this ACE science is hard-wired into all systems that interface with children and their families.”

Download a summary from the Summit here.