ACES Muskegon: A Childhood Trauma Survey

Flyer for the ACES Muskegon Study, sponsored by Health West.

Flyer for the ACES Muskegon Study, sponsored by Health West.

I pride myself in being a trauma-informed birth worker.  So, when I was chosen as a “ACE Champion” as a part of the release of a new Health West survey, I registered for and attended the one-hour training on November 17th in Muskegon Heights.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, or ACES, began in 1995 and found that the more traumas a person experienced in their youth, the worse their lifelong health.  Since Muskegon County ranks worse than every other county in the state of Michigan for health behaviors, such as smoking and obesity, there is a high likelihood that childhood traumas are driving these outcomes.

Health West, through a grant called Wellville, is conducting the ACES Muskegon survey just for county residents who are 18 years or older.  Their goal is to get 3,000 people to complete the survey, using the results to raise awareness of the need for trauma-informed treatment and prevention, as well as grant funding to address the problem.

I cannot express strongly enough how much I support the intentions of this initiative!  Still, I must acknowledge my deep hesitations in supporting ACES Muskegon.  Although completing the survey will be easy and for most people, for those with traumatic memories, asking them to spend even 10 minutes thinking about the worst moments of their lives is a lot to ask.  I don’t feel comfortable asking people to do it unless I know that there will be a serious effort to get to the root causes of violence and oppression in our neighborhoods.

As someone who is very well-versed in the theories of primary prevention, I know that for this data to be effective, it must not just lead to providing services with more compassion knowing anyone could be a survivor.  Action must be taken to influence change at the highest rungs on the Spectrum of Prevention, influencing policy, legislation and organizational practices.  Unfortunately, many of those involved in the dissemination and promotion of ACES Muskegon work for organizations who have misogynist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, and other oppressive and exclusionary policies and practices!

The conundrum of social change is that what is palatable to those in power is the least effective and what stands to be the most effective is shut down in its earliest stages.  I speak from experience too vast to include in a blog and I am not alone.  I am close to many people who have lost their livelihoods due to their social justice work.

After contemplating my reasons for skepticism, I shifted my focus to thinking about my own personal healing journey.  I’m always saying that I need to devote more time and energy to self-care.  If I complete a survey, I will receive educational emails.  Maybe I can use this survey as an opportunity to consciously carve out more time to learning about healing my own traumas and those of others.

I have a lot of respect for the Health West staff for putting in the effort to launch such a bold campaign.  Kelly France and others were very supportive of me when I organized the Perinatal Care – A Trauma-Informed Approach conference in April of 2013.  I believe in the sincere intentions of behavioral health professionals to make an impact on the heartbreaking abuse they see in their work every day.  I’m going to take the survey and I encourage you to do the same.