At the Foundation's 2019 annual meeting, Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader spoke about the complexity of the substance use disorder (SUD) crisis facing West Virginia; Rader emphasized that SUD impacts not just individuals, but families and communities, employees and employers, first responders and health care providers. At the 2020 annual meeting, the Foundation further explored the impact of this issue on our community, as keynote speaker Kathy Szafran, President and CEO of Crittenton Services, spoke about the collateral damage that the SUD crisis is having on West Virginia's children.
Szafran shared research about the long-term negative impact on health and well being for individuals who have faced adverse childhood experiences, or ACES. ACES are traumatic experiences that an individual has experienced before adulthood, including experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect or growing up in a home where families members have substance use disorders or mental health concerns or who are in jail or prison. ACES are linked to chronic physical and mental health problems and substance use disorders in adulthood.
Szafran explained how children with adverse experiences react in what she referred to as "survival mode" when making decisions - they go straight to "fight, flight, or freeze." Understanding why children might react in this way is a first step in providing support; implementing trauma-informed care practices in our schools, healthcare facilities, and social service organizations is a key to promoting a culture of safety, empowerment, and healing for children who have experienced ACES.
Local organizations also spoke at the meeting about the ways in which ACES are affecting the children that they serve. Cathy Grewe with Wood County Schools shared how teachers have been trained in trauma informed care and how schools are implementing programs including counseling, yoga, and calming rooms to help children learn to self- regulate.
Foundation Executive Director Judy Sjostedt encouraged attendees to consider ways in which they can positively impact the lives of children in our region, through engaging with schools, nonprofit organizations, and faith-based institutions in programs that support the needs of children. In addition, the Foundation is building a "Fund for Recovery" to support initiatives related to substance use disorder, including ACES. Contributions to the Fund for Recovery can be sent to PACF, PO Box 1762, Parkersburg, WV, 26102 or made online here.