An Ounce of Prevention


By Caroline J. Chantry

We are facing a public health crisis as Americans. I am not referring to COVID, though it has been exacerbated by the pandemic. New evidence highlighting the breadth, depth, and severity of this crisis is published almost daily.

The crisis we are facing is unacceptably high and increasing rates of adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs for short, and the resulting health consequences. ACEs are traumatic experiences in childhood such as physical or emotional neglect or abuse, and toxic stress resulting from situations such as parental mental illness or substance abuse, domestic violence or incarceration of family members.

Some of the worst health and social problems in our nation are negative effects of ACEs as these traumatic childhood experiences increase the likelihood of health issues as an adult.

ACEs are prevalent in our communities and span all segments of our community. The CDC states that “61% of adults surveyed across 25 states have experienced at least one type of ACE, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs.” The most recent California data reveal even higher rates.

A child’s sense of safety, stability and connection is undermined if they are experiencing chronic and toxic stress. Exposure to intense and consistent stress alters children’s brain development, impacting their attention, decision-making, learning and response to stress.

Children who suffer prolonged trauma are more likely to experience mental and physical illnesses as adults. In a recent PBS interview, California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris stated that people experiencing four or more adverse childhood experiences have double the risk of developing heart disease and cancer.

Abused children are more likely to be violent as juveniles and at higher risk of becoming abusive in adult relationships, likely perpetuating the cycle. ACEs can also negatively impact education, job opportunities and earning potential.

The expansive and long-term impact of ACEs on the mental and physical health of our families and community is costly. We need a preventive approach. If we can intervene in crises before children experience prolonged trauma, then our society as a whole is healthier and stronger.

The Yolo Crisis Nursery is a gem of a resource in our community with its mission to provide early intervention services in a safe environment to nurture children to become healthy and resilient, strengthen parents and preserve families.

One of our clients, Jennifer, and her young son James were shaken to the core by a brutal domestic violence attack. Both mother and son were working hard at starting over when their past came back to haunt them in the middle of the night. Jennifer and James escaped that night with their lives, but both were severely traumatized.

Little James could recall every horrifying detail of the attack, and Jennifer sank into a deep depression. Our nursery staff worked with James in our trauma-informed respite care and preschool program, while Jennifer began attending to necessary legal issues and treatment for her depression.

Flash-forward to today, Jennifer and James are together and thriving. They are a stable family with a home, Jennifer is employed, and James is in preschool. We recently received a note from Jennifer: “As a family who benefited from your compassionate work, and as fellow caring humans, we are forever grateful for and inspired by the strength, dedication, kindness, and understanding with which you provide your crucial services for our community. Thank you so much!”

Jennifer and James are proof that we cannot erase the past or all adverse childhood experiences, but with help, we can work to lessen the impact and make the future as bright as possible.

The need for ACE prevention and mitigation to combat the public health crisis makes the Yolo Crisis Nursery’s mission of early intervention and wraparound services critical. We strive to work with clients to prevent and resolve crises so families can remain intact and children avoid trauma as much as possible.

— Caroline J. Chantry, M.D. is a member of the Yolo Crisis Nursery board of directors. This article was originally published in the Davis Enterprise on May 30, 2021.

For many families, the holidays and New Year mean coming together and celebration. The biggest concern may be checking gifts off everyone’s list and, perhaps, avoiding politics at the dinner table. Yet this is also an important time to recognize families facing crisis in our community. These families are not only trying to make ends meet, they also wonder how they will provide care for their children.

Fortunately, the Yolo Crisis Nursery, a nonprofit dedicated to helping parents and children in crisis, can provide respite care and help for these families. Over nearly two decades, the Nursery has helped over 5,000 children and families in Yolo County. The Nursery understands how an emergency can upend a family and is here to help.

The Yolo Crisis Nursery’s work is best illustrated by its clients’ successes. “Frank,” a loving and hard-working father, was willing to share his remarkable story of how the Nursery helped him during his time of need. Frank suddenly found himself with his world turned upside down. “Mary,” his partner and mother of his 2-year old son “Jack,” went missing. Mary suffers from mental illness, and for reasons unknown, she did not come home.

Frank was devastated by Mary’s departure, as was his son. They were suddenly alone, with no support network. Prior to her departure, Frank worked full-time as a landscaper, while Mary cared for Jack. Their budget was tight, but they got by. Now with Mary gone, Frank was at a tipping point. With no one to care for Jack and no paid leave remaining at work, Frank was between a rock and a hard place — if he stayed at home to care for Jack, he would lose his job.

Thankfully, Frank was willing to ask for help, and a community member referred him to Yolo Crisis Nursery. Frank and Jack were welcomed into the Nursery, and the highly trained staff quickly went to work. Through the intake process, trauma-informed staff identified that Jack was autistic. They quickly coordinated additional medical screenings, check-ups, and initiated other critical services.

The Nursery also provided temporary childcare for Jack, who was nurtured, fed nutritious meals, and enjoyed an enriching curriculum through the onsite preschool. Jack thrived in the Yolo Crisis Nursery’s care, achieving many developmental milestones. Meanwhile, Frank was able to maintain his full-time job, while also working closely with Nursery’s staff to navigate his son’s diagnosis and his childcare crisis. With the Nursery’s help, Frank avoided losing his job and home. Most importantly, he avoided losing Jack.

Recognizing that Frank’s crisis was not temporary, the Nursery also connected him with community resources and helped him find long-term childcare. The Nursery also helped him develop a support network of other parents which help one another through challenges. One of the members of this group even looked after Jack when he had a fever while Frank had to work. Not knowing if or when Mary will return, Frank continues to work to build a better life for himself and his son.

Although every family the Nursery serves is unique, they all have one thing in common — they are in crisis and in need of help. When families are in crisis, young children are the most vulnerable. The statistics are shocking. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 1 in 7 children experienced abuse and neglect in 2018.

In a recent interview with PBS, California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris said, “the single greatest unaddressed public health threat that is facing our nation today is an issue of early adversity.” These trends make prevention — the very mission of the Yolo Crisis Nursery — critical.

The Yolo Crisis Nursery is here to help all families in crisis with children from birth to 5 years old. Services are voluntary and provided free of charge. The Nursery understands it takes courage for mothers and fathers to ask for help and that these parents are looking out for what is best for their children.

I am honored to be a member of the Yolo Crisis Nursery Board, and as a new father myself, I continue to be amazed by the work the Nursery’s dedicated staff does for families and children in need. The Yolo Crisis Nursery is funded by the generosity of our community.

On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff, the Friends of the Yolo Crisis Nursery, and the families who rely on the Nursery, we extend a heartfelt thank you to our amazing community for your continued support. If Frank’s story resonated with you, we encourage you to take a moment to learn more about the Nursery’s services and consider joining us to help prevent child abuse and neglect in Yolo County. To donate, to learn more or to join us, please visit www.yolocrisisnursery.org.

— This article was written by Eric Miller a member of the Board of Directors for Yolo Crisis Nursery. The article originally appeared in the Davis Enterprise on Sunday, December 22, 2019.

*For privacy reasons, we changed the client names for this column.