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Speaker: To Boost Public Health, Count The ACES

Backed by extensive new research and a compelling personal story, Virginia social worker Allison Jackson comes to Charleston with big news about public health. (Courtesy of Jackson)
Backed by extensive new research and a compelling personal story, Virginia social worker Allison Jackson comes to Charleston with big news about public health. (Courtesy of Jackson)
April 27, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – To improve public health, count the ACEs – the Adverse Childhood Experiences. That's the message coming to a social workers' conference in Charleston.

Virginia social worker Allison Jackson comes backed with a lot of new research and a compelling personal story.

She says a list of 10 kinds of childhood trauma, such as violence, abuse or addiction in the home, can predict health problems.

Jackson says of the 10, she survived eight. No surprise, she was institutionalized repeatedly. And she says she might not have made it, but for a mental health worker who befriended her and visited her once after a serious suicide attempt.

"I couldn't talk because I had really hurt myself," says Jackson. "And he said, 'Please don't give up Allison, before you know what you can become. Because I'm going to hold hope right here until you are strong enough to grab it.'"

Jackson says she pays that kindness forward in part by talking about how much damage childhood trauma can do.

For more than 30 years, the National Association of Social Workers' (NASW) West Virginia chapter has hosted a spring conference. It's now the largest event of its kind in the country.

Jackson says the great news she's bringing to the conference is that a high ACEs score is not a death sentence, although, untreated, it is a serious threat to public heath.

"The CDC has linked over 70 physical and mental health conditions to Adverse Childhood Experiences," she says. "At a score of a six instead of a zero, you're more likely to die 20 years younger than your counterpart."

Jackson says with an ACEs score of four, a person is 15 times more likely to attempt suicide, five times more likely to become an alcoholic, 11 times more likely to use intravenous drugs, and much more likely to have mental health issues. But she stresses that we know how to treat childhood trauma.

"Most of us know that texting while driving is a major public health issue," says Jackson. "There is no commercial about Adverse Childhood Experiences. We're not talking about it, we don't hear about it – and yet, it significantly affects our health."

She'll be speaking and hosting workshops at the Charleston Civic Center over the next three days.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV