The New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation is engaged in a long-term, multi-prong effort to prevent and reduce childhood trauma. Our focus is to effect change in New Hampshire policies, systems, and environments through strategies that can prevent and reduce the risk for adverse childhood experiences.
Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, are experiences or events witnessed by children that can have lifelong implications for physical, social and emotional health. These experiences can include physical, emotional and sexual abuse as well as living in a home with domestic violence perpetrated against a parent or caregiver, with someone engaged in substance misuse or experiencing mental health problems, having an incarcerated parent, or household instability due to parent separation. ACEs impact “aspects of the child’s environment that can undermine their sense of safety, stability, and bonding.1
The common term for the impact of ACEs is toxic stress.
In New Hampshire, more than 20% of children ages 0-17 have experienced one ACE and nearly 16% have experienced two or more ACEs.2 Fifty percent of New Hampshire adults, ages 18-64, report experiencing one or more adverse childhood experiences,4 increasing their risk for the health and mental health conditions associated with ACEs.1
These potentially traumatic events impact a child’s brain development or “architecture” which in turn can have negative implications for a child’s overall development and well-being. 2
Children are resilient
Children experiencing ACEs have higher rates of chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and cancer, are associated with higher rates of poor mental health and substance misuse, are at higher risk for overweight and obesity and are less engaged in school. In New Hampshire, children with ACEs experience poor social, emotional and physical health at higher rates than the national average.3
Conversely, we know that children are deeply influenced by and/or build resilience when they have a supportive adult in their life, have places to play and explore in nature whether on a trail or at a park, can access mental and physical health services in a timely manner from healthy providers knowledgeable about ACEs5, and whose parents and caregivers get the support they need to build and strengthen their ability to nurture.
In 2016, New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation initiated grantmaking to prevent and reduce the impact of ACEs. We learned a lot from those who were interacting with — and supporting children and caregivers impacted by ACEs.
The foundation’s early investments included building capacity for evidence based models like Child Parent Psychotherapy, a therapeutic modality that works with parents and caregivers to strengthen their attachment and ability to bond with their children.
We piloted a concept developed by the Manchester Police Department and Amoskeag Health, the Adverse Childhood Experience Response Team (ACERT), to educate police about ACEs and in partnership with social service staff to guide families with children to available resources following a domestic police intervention.
We’re building knowledge and changing systems in pediatric practices to screen for ACEs and where indicated, refer to local services to help families with young children get the support they need. In addition, our assessments and reports have had a positive impact on increasing state resources to prevent and respond to ACEs.
Children benefit from a community of supports
Following these early investments, the foundation remains committed to supporting environments that create positive experiences for children, builds resilience for children and families and invests in systematic changes that assure children experience safe, stable relationships, foundational for positive childhood development.
New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation continues to pilot and invest in models that strengthen communities’ ability to provide positive childhood experiences, family support services and those who make services available so that children can thrive. We will keep you posted about work being done throughout the state and will update you about our learning and impact from time to time.