Ky. groups launch effort to reduce childhood adversity

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A new initiative called Bloom Kentucky is focused on statewide policy change to prevent and mitigate the impact of childhood adversity.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that occur before the age of 18, such as physical or sexual abuse, substance-use issues in the household, or having a parent in jail.

Sara Hemingway, executive director of the Marilyn and William Young Charitable Foundation in Owensboro, said experiencing ACEs have lifelong effects on health, mental wellness, and the ability to function as an adult.

“It compounds the issues that they already are facing,” Hemingway explained. “And it takes them twice as long, three times as long, to get back on track, and so, we can’t possibly do it by ourselves.”

The latest data showed 22 percent of kids in the Commonwealth have experienced at least two ACEs. Kentucky also has the highest rate of child victims of abuse and neglect in the nation for the third year running, and more than one in ten Kentucky children have had a parent separated from them due to incarceration, the fifth-highest rate in the nation.

Research hints the pandemic and accompanying social isolation, job loss, school closures and other stressors may be amplifying childhood trauma.

Gerry Roll, CEO of the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky in Hazard, pointed out it is more important than ever to raise community awareness about the harmful effect of ACEs.

“You don’t start with the money, you start with the people and the community,” Roll advised. “Then we can use our dollars to work more effectively in those communities.”

Barry Allen, president and treasurer of the Gheens Foundation in Louisville, said for the first time in the Commonwealth, more than thirty grant makers from around the state have agreed to come out of their comfort zones to tackle ACEs.

“And get into the business of educating, encouraging, and enabling our legislative, judicial and executive leadership in Frankfort, to enact policy changes that are necessary to prevent and mitigate this whole impact of childhood adversity on our children and families,” Allen urged.

Nearly half of children in the U.S. have experienced at least one adverse childhood event prior to age 18, with a higher prevalence among children of color and low-income children.