Sometimes help from outside of one’s sphere of influence can bring a triumphant victory in life and lifestyle.
“Over the last few years, we have become more and more aware of something looming that is impacting our community and many others,” Tracy Whitaker said. “We discovered that this hidden danger could seriously impact the health of our patients, shorten lifespan and in some cases, can be deadly. These are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).”
Tracy Whitaker is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with over 18 years of experience working with children, adults and families at the Craig County Health Center and the Monroe Health Center.
“This is an area of focus for Monroe/Craig as well as the Craig County Prevention Planning Team (CPPT), and I am very excited for this area of intense interest by Ms. Whitaker,” J.D. Carlin, Prevention Specialist of Prevention Services with Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare and a team member of CCPT, said. J.D. is also a member of RAYSAC (Roanoke Area Youth Substance Abuse Coalition).
Whitaker emphasized that “At the Craig County Health Center, we care about the wellness of our patients at every age. We believe in prevention of illness in adults and our children.”
Whitaker explained that Adverse Childhood Experiences are things that happen to children or things a child may be exposed to that cause toxic stress. She further added that toxic stress is especially damaging to growing brains and that studies show what happens in one’s mind can affect their body and their future.
“Toxic stress is anything in the developing child’s life that is frightening and potentially life-threatening,” Whitaker noted. “Some children live in fear at home, at school and in their community. Some kids experience poverty. Some kids have caregivers who are unable to be there for them because of death, divorce, jail, mental illness or substance abuse. Some children experience different kinds of abuse- verbal, physical or even sexual. Some kids see violence in their home.”
She added that the more ACEs a child has in their life, the higher risk there is for mental and physical health issues, substance abuse and other problems. “We have learned these events can increase the risk for serious diseases like diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease as well as many others,” said Whitaker.
Because of this, the Craig County Health Center is pursuing avenues to help do something about these issues.
They will begin educating staff on ACEs this fall so that every clinical staff member understands how a patient’s history of toxic stress impacts their health over a lifetime. Staff will then learn how to screen for ACEs and help patients identify them.
“The good news is that many people can and have overcome ACEs,” Whitaker said. “This is known as resilience, and the folks in Craig County are known for being resilient and strong. This program will give them better tools to build on strengths and fight against ACEs in their individual lives.”
Whitaker explained what resilience looks like:
• Having parents who know how to solve problems and who have healthy relationships.
• Building healthy relationships with adults who listen and respond patiently to a child in a supportive way, and pay attention to a child’s needs.
• Having family, friends or neighbors who support, help and listen to children.
• Having basic needs met by caregivers with safe housing, food, clothing, healthcare and education.
• Parents who know what to expect as children grow and can help them grow in a healthy way.
• Building social and emotional skills that help children manage their emotions and express their feelings and needs.
“One may learn more about ACEs and the impact they may have made on your own life and the life of your children, at the new Craig County Prevention Team website, www.craigppt.org and https://acestoohigh.com/,” Whitaker said.
Handouts are also available at the Craig County Health Center. For more information, contact (540) 864-6390.
Whitaker also noted that “If you would like to understand more about the impact ACEs have had on you, your children or your family, our counselor will be able to help.”