Every child deserves the opportunity to have a healthy and successful life – and the first 1,000 days are the most crucial. Across the state of Tennessee, 13 innovation grants funded by Governor and Mrs. Haslam were chosen as a part of the statewide “Building Strong Brains Initiative” to promote public awareness about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs are caused by traumatic experiences and severe neglect or toxic stress, which can damage the connections being built in a child’s brain in the earliest years of life.
In Chattanooga, the grant provided the opportunity for two days of events to help raise awareness of ACEs with the first day being a series of professional forums with Dr. Pat Levitt, neuroscientist and senior fellow at the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University. These forums included legal, medical, and behavioral health professionals, along with a training workshop for early childhood and youth providers. The second day began with a coordinated discussion on ACEs between Dr. Levitt and Chattanooga 2.0 community committee members. Chattanooga 2.0 is a community-wide movement to support a better educated workforce beginning at birth and continuing through career – comprised of business and community leaders, government officials, nonprofit and faith-based organizations, neighborhoods and families.
An ACEs Community Summit concluded the two days of events, headlined by Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam and Dr. Pat Levitt. “This is a statewide problem [that] needs a statewide solution,” said First Lady Haslam during her discussion at the Community Summit on the need for building emotionally healthy children at the very beginning of life. “When the architecture of the brain is being built, that’s when the brain is also the most vulnerable in terms of adverse childhood experiences, “ said Dr. Levitt.
Being exposed to these types of traumatic experiences and negative situations, within the first 1,000 days of life, can have severe impacts on brain development and the likelihood of success later on in life. Studies have shown there is a link between childhood stress and a predisposition to multiple problems throughout a person’s life, such as obesity, marital problems and alcohol abuse.
Various education leaders throughout Hamilton County, including Mayor Jim Coppinger and Ariel Ford, City of Chattanooga Office of Early Learning, spoke at the Community Summit on why Chattanooga is focused on early learning and building strong brains for our earliest learners. Several programs have been put into play throughout the community.
Since 2014, the City of Chattanooga has been working with Signal Centers on Baby U, which works to tear down barriers for families to provide the youngest members of the community with early learning development. Baby U also educates early mothers on how to keep themselves and their children healthy. The results have been astounding, with 100% of Baby U mothers receiving prenatal care. For the mothers who are in high school, they have all graduated on time.
Parents must realize the importance of early learning from day one of a child’s life and strive to limit a child’s exposure to violence and traumatic experiences. As educators, counselors, caregivers, and leaders, we also must understand the symptoms of adverse childhood experiences later in childhood.
“We want to change the conversation from what’s wrong with this child to what’s happened to this child,” said First Lady Crissy Haslam.
“It takes a community” could not be truer when discussing ACEs intervention. Over 440 concerned citizens across the state of Tennessee, including several members of the Chattanooga 2.0 Early Learning Coalition, were trained to be ACEs trainers by the State of Tennessee. In the Greater Chattanooga/Hamilton County region, these individuals will continue to work with community groups to address ACEs education and awareness.
Through coordination with the Chattanooga 2.0 initiative and United Way of Greater Chattanooga, the ACEs Summit and forums created the foundation for the launch of the Chattanooga BASICs by the Early Childhood Coalition. Chattanooga BASICS is a public awareness campaign that emphasizes the importance of early childhood education to help address the impact of ACEs.
The Chattanooga BASICS program is now available to the families of Hamilton County through a joint effort with the Boston Basics organization, a group started by The Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI) at Harvard University. AGI aims to close skill gaps between racial, ethnic, and income groups and to raise achievement levels for all children. Using five evidence-based parenting and caregiving principles, Chattanooga BASICs practices will be implemented in everyday life by parents and caregivers of all walks of life through the support of a broad range of Chattanooga organizations and community members.
ACEs messages will be included in expansion and outreach efforts to educate and inform the public working in schools, early childhood occupations, through local faith-based organizations, local businesses, institutions of higher learning and in community-based programs as part of the Chattanooga 2.0 coalition goals.