Submitted by Juanita Metzger
This week, I joined KidsLINK and community leaders from across Waterloo Region and the child and youth services sector in Ontario to talk about trauma - really, a conversation of hope and change, challenge and change.... and of course, prevention.
This was my first experience hearing from Dr. Ann Jennings - an advocate for changing our social and human service systems to be equipped to deal with early childhood trauma. Dr. Jennings used the 15 year Adverse Childhood Experiences study to outline the impacts of childhood trauma and the long term consequences of unaddressed trauma. The parallels to "root causes" of crime and "risk factors" for crime that informs the work of the Waterlo Region Crime Prevention Council were not lost on me! I felt like Dr. Jennings was speaking our language!!
What spoke volumes was Dr. Jennings' story of her daughter Anna.
"Anna Jennings was sexually abused when she was less than three years old. This was the first of several abuses that occurred over her lifetime, and put a confused, frightened child into a mental health system that neither recognized nor treated Anna's real problem. Diagnosed "schizophrenic".. she was institutionalized for more than 12 years from age 15 to 32. Although she attempted to communicate the "awful things" that had happened to her, there was no one to listen, understand or help her. She took her life on October 24, 1992, on a back ward of a state mental hospital."
Dr. Jennings went on to outline the "wall of missed opportunities" that took place over the course of Anna's life. The sheer number of dates, warning signs and professional involvements could have literally filled a wall. Had these opportunties not been missed, her daughter might have been helped and might still be alive today.
Why is it that we can pinpoint - after the fact - all the places in a person's life where change could have made a difference, yet our services, systems, families, schools and communities can't seem break through at those critical moments?
This got me wondering - what if our entire social support systems was equipped to recognize and deal with trauma in our children and youth. Dr. Jennings, quoting a colleague, suggested that if we could effectively do that, we could reduce the size of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) to that of a pamphlet. I suspect there might also be fewer people in the criminal justice system and in prison.
Research tells us that a high percentage of people in prisons, those with addictions and many who have mental health issues have stories of trauma such as abuse, witness to abuse, neglect, and early trauma in a household environment. Now, I've never been to prison, but I've visited enough of them to know that it is not a place where one could not effectively deal with the impact of trauma in a helpful way. Trauma-informed practices are showing evidence that another way is not only possible, but also practical and cost effective.
Through the ACE Study, it is estimated that the long term consequences of unaddressed trauma (disease, disability, suicide, chronic health problems and social problems) currently stands at $103,754,017,492.00. Yes, you read that correctly. That's over 103 BILLION (US) dollars.
Now there's a " wall of missed opportunity". Taking a prevention-based approach could save billions of dollars and help people in a healthier way.
Smart on crime, indeed.
For background documents shared during this presentation, including Dr. Jennings' PowerPoint slides, vist the KidsLINK website to access them. Please consider sharing this information with colleagues.