The Sequoia Conference Center on Humboldt County Office of Education’s campus was at capacity, 448 people had landed a seat — while at least another 100 watched from a live stream in a separate room. The draw was a conversation among California’s first Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris and a panel of locals spearheading Humboldt County’s efforts to alleviate the impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences, also known as ACEs.
“Thank you for all the incredible work you are doing here in Humboldt, to all of you on the panel. For me, most (important) of all, is thanks to all of you for being here tonight, because this is how we break the inter-generational cycle (of ACEs),” Harris said. “We do it in community and we do it by showing up and having this conversation and talking about these challenges.”
ACEs are traumatic experiences (like violence, abuse, neglect and/or separation from a parent) individuals face as children. Each experience counts as one ACE. As Harris described it, these traumatic experiences activate our fight-or-flight response. While the response itself is a good thing we need to survive, when it is constantly stimulated it releases toxic stress, which can cause many health issues later in life. Humboldt and Mendocino counties have some of the highest rates of ACEs, according to a study by the Center for Youth Wellness, which found that 75 percent of residents have experienced one or more ACEs while more than 30 percent of residents have experienced more than four ACEs.
Humboldt County’s efforts started three years ago, when State Sen. Mike McGuire hosted the first town hall on ACEs. Yesterday's meeting informed community members and health officials on where Humboldt stands with its mission to prevent ACEs and toxic stress, build resilience and provide trauma-informed care through each of the organizations on the panel.
McGuire moderated the town hall, which included First 5 Humboldt Executive Director Mary Ann Hansen, Hoopa Valley Tribe Education Director Erika Chase, County Superintendent of Schools Chris Hartley, Department of Health and Human Services Director Connie Beck, Candy Stockton, medical director of Humboldt Independent Practice Association, and Dr. Harris.
The discussion also featured a brief update on the funding available for ACEs intervention, both statewide and locally. The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors allocated $1.2 million toward ACEs prevention and promoting resilience “in the form of direct services” for the community. First 5 Humboldt has collected $460,000 in Health Foundation Support to coordinate community ACEs projects and host a three-day conference around trauma-informed practices. Humboldt County was also awarded a $1.7 million grant from California Department of Social Services’ Office of Child Abuse and Prevention to support pregnant women with Substance Abuse Disorder.
Gov. Gavin Newsom allocated $40 million to trauma screening for adults and children on Medi-Cal, and another $50 million to train health providers on trauma screening in California.
The meeting was followed by a Q&A session with the panel that brought up concerns from community members on how Humboldt County can do more to support other communities.
“Here in California … We’re setting some bold goals,” Dr. Harris told the crowd. “I am being extremely ambitious but the ambition isn’t for me, it’s for our kids. We are going to cut ACEs and toxic stress in California in half in a generation.”