Trauma, Toxic Stress, and New Interventions

Trauma, Toxic Stress, and New Interventions

By now, many of us are aware of the role of trauma in peoples’ lives. The challenges of toxic stress has been clinically proven to affect brain development in utero and throughout childhood, with devastating impact on mental, physical, and emotional health.

Tremendous research has gone into the study of ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, and the results in populations across the country. Chrysalis recognizes Iowa ACEs 360, a coalition of organizations and providers working to advance the knowledge, research, and training about ACEs, the effects, and how best to address this issue as a premier resourceFrom the ACEs 360 website, here is a brief history of this work:

The ACE Study is a large-scale, ongoing evaluation examining the link between childhood trauma, and risky behaviors and health issues in adulthood. The original study was conducted from 1995-1997 by investigators Dr. Robert  Anda, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Vincent Felitti, with Kaiser Permanente. The investigators surveyed more than 17,000 Kaiser Permanente HMO adult members (note: all participants were White) about their exposure to ten categories of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction during their childhood. The results, combined with physical exams and ongoing tracking of members' health, showed a powerful correlation between harmful experiences in childhood and poor adult health outcomes decades later.

Defining ACEs, the website continues: Starting even before birth, a child’s brain is constructed through an ongoing process that continues into adulthood. But many children experience stress early on that can become toxic without adult support. Over time, this level of stress can impact behaviors and lead to poor health, learning, and social outcomes. 

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that can dramatically upset a child's sense of safety and well-being…Emerging research shows that positive childhood experiences stemming from caring relationships and connections in the community reduce the impact ACEs can have. Using intentional strategies, we can build the environments that foster healthy development, as well as create system change that leads to an equitable community. 

Chrysalis utilized this research in after-school programming, facilitator training, and educating our nonprofit partners in what has been known as “trauma-informed” practice. A research guide developed for this practice by the Crisis Prevention Institute provides helpful and informative recommendations for understanding and dealing with trauma and is attached to this email.

Last week, Iowa ACEs 360 hosted a presentation by Dr. Shawn Ginwright, Professor of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University, whose research specific to youth in urban areas deal with poverty, prejudice, and the inequality they experience in their schools. His research led him to coin the term “healing-centered engagement,” a different approach to the traumas facing youth of color using a culturally-based, asset-focused approach rather than “trauma-informed.”


Dr. Ginwright’s focus is on the well-being we desire, rather than the symptoms we want to suppress. In next week’s Update, I’ll share an overview of this innovative and successful methodology, which I believe can change the way we work with youth – especially Black, Latinx, Asian, and other youth of color.

If you’d like to read more about Dr. Ginwright and his work, go to his website.