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Are you at risk of chronic disease because your dad was a drunk?

J. Mark Robinson, left, executive director and CEO of the Care Management Coalition of Western New York, works with Operations Manager Larry Congdon in an office at the Child & Family Services headquarters on Delaware Avenue. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Do you have diabetes, abuse drugs or alcohol, struggle with depression or other mental illness?

Ever wonder if part of the problem is the way you were brought up?

If so, you’re not alone. New research suggests that childhood trauma likely plays a role in all of these conditions, and more, including heart disease and cancer.

Key players in the Western New York health and human services field are taking notice of this research, which has caught fire after results of an Adverse Childhood Experiences Studylaunched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente. 

The CDC doesn’t mince words:

“The ACE Study findings suggest that certain experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States,” the organization says on its website. “Progress in preventing and recovering from the nation’s worst health and social problems is likely to benefit from understanding that many of these problems arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences.”

This study started in 1995 and has led to ongoing research by others who have confirmed the findings. in the first study, more than 17,000 San Diego residents – mostly white and middle class – answered questions about whether they suffered under the weight of 10 childhood trauma situations.

The higher number of situations, the greater risk for suicide, drug use and several chronic and debilitating illnesses.

 You can take the test by clicking here

Get a better sense about what the numbers mean here.

 “The ACE Study results are disturbing to some because they imply that the basic causes of addictions are to be found in our personal histories, not in drug dealers or dangerous chemicals,” researchers say. “This finding is at odds with current concepts, including those of biological psychiatry, drug-treatment programs, and drug-eradication programs. The results of the ACE Study strongly suggest that billions of dollars are spent everywhere except on the solution.”

That solution involves plowing more money into child abuse treatment and prevention, says J. Mark Robinson, who is the subject of this week’s “"In the field" storyIn the field” story in WNY Refresh.

Robinson is executive director and CEO of the Care Management Coalition of Western New York, a think tank of the top leaders of the following agencies: Baker Victory Services, the Buffalo Urban League, Catholic Charities of Buffalo, Child & Family Services, Crisis Services, EPIC (Every Person Influences Children), the Family Help Center, Gateway-Longview, Gustavus Adolphus Family Services, New Directions Youth and Family Services, and the Sarah Minnie Badger Foster Care Agency,

“It took us a long time to understand the common thread was that we all deal with,”Robinson told me this week,”and we figured it out. It’s people who’ve been traumatized. Everybody puts their resources into kids and families that have been traumatized in some way.”

A conference that digs more deeply into the practical applications of the research will take place Nov. 6 at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. For more information or to register, call 335-7502 or click here

James J. Cassian, CEO of Baker Victory Services, and Dennis C. Walczyk, CEO of Catholic Charities, spearheaded a closer look into trauma-informed care in the region about seven years ago. It led to a conference about four years ago at Erie County Medical Center and now to next month’s conference.

In January, the Care Management Coalition and the UB School of Social Work became co-administrative homes for a new Trauma-Informed Care Initiative.

“We’ve identified four sectors,” Robinson said. “We want to make this inclusive. Before we just had silos. We’re all too used to that in Buffalo. So we have health care, and education, and law enforcement, and social and behavioral health.

"Our goal really is to have Western New York become a trama-informed community. It affects everything. How we do our daily jobs. How we look at people who need our services. And it’s got different applications based on the sectors.”

He called the ACES findings “staggering,” and said the data was too compelling to ignore.

At first blush, the concept sounds like the analytics that the Bills and Sabres are talking about – an analytical way of using statistics and mathematical equations, based on research, to try to determine best practices.

“That’s a huge part of it,” Robinson said. “There’s experts out there. It’s just a matter of incorporating these best practices, and it’s gotta be from the CEO right down to the janitor and the receptionist. It’s gotta be on the street, with the cops. It can’t just be the guy walking the streets. It’s gotta be the sergeant, the lieutenant. It’s a big shift, a huge shift, so obviously, we have an awful long way to go.

“I’ll mention Lt. David Mann. He’s the representative from the Buffalo Police Department, from law enforcement. He’s up against, ‘We’ve done it for 100 years like this.’

“I’m not just picking on the cops. Everybody can say this. But it requires a shift, so we’re going step-by-step here. ... I think this conference will be another big leap.”

Here are more excerpts from our interview:

It strikes me there might be a couple of different dynamics. The people who say, ‘We’ve been doing this for a long time, we don’t want to hear about it,’ and the people in these sectors who say, ‘My father was an alcoholic, I buy into this, I get this.’

Absolutely. One of the 10 ACES questions is ‘Was somebody in your home an alcoholic or substance abuser?’

How are you seeing this play out?

Many people in the human service field are there because of their background. Some of them won’t admit it, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just where you came from. A lot of it is just realizing why you do certain things, being aware there’s some warning flags here.

This ACE study was unbelievable, to see these physical diseases. We always talk about these resilient kids: Johnny’s been through so much, look at him, he’s doing great. He’s not in jail. He’s got his degree. Guess what? What these (researchers) have proven is that there’s going to be consequences (for failing to make a connection here).

You shouldn’t live in fear waiting for that cancer bomb to drop, but there are direct correlations, so be aware of that. There’s ways to ameliorate that. It’s not a hopeless thing.

Just because you got four or five of 10 ACES checked doesn’t mean your doomed. There’s help.

Can you talk specifically about some of the numbers?

If a person checks four out of the 10, the chances of them becoming an IV drug user are about 500 percent greater than somebody who checked 0 to 1. If you checked six or more, the chances that you’ll be an IV drug abuser are 4,000 percent more than somebody who’s checked one or two.

This is based on 17,000-plus people.

That doesn’t mean if you’ve checked six ACES, you’re going to be an IV drug abuser, but to be aware of that risk, especially at a young age, is important. It also means that our society better be ready to start helping these people in ways that we haven’t in the past. Now we have ways to identify people who truly need some support.

What are you hearing from the educational community?

The Buffalo schools counselors were like sponges at the last conference.

Is it enough for a teacher to understand that he or she could have a class filled with several students who have experienced some sort of trauma?

It’s absolutely critical to be aware of it, and to be aware of the resources that are available in the community that you can reach for, for these kids. They’re not on an island, though I imagine they feel like it sometimes. Putting your head in the sand doesn’t work.


Twitter: @bnrefresh

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

@BNRefresh |