A handful of local nonprofits and agencies have banded together to help make Del Norte County more resilient.
They hope to combat the adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, that can lead to alcoholism, suicide, heart disease and other chronic health problems. But there’s one problem — Del Norte County does not have an ACEs score.
“We are left out of this statewide data that allows us to apply for funding, really, because we don’t have countywide data,” said Jermaine Brubaker, youth initiative program manager for Building Healthy Communities. “We would have to go out and get that ourselves and create that ourselves. It takes us out of the running for a lot of assistance for our community to help combat these things and build that resiliency.”
Along with Building Healthy Communities, the Del Norte County Public Health Branch, First 5 Del Norte, the Child Abuse Prevention Council, Del Norte County Unified School District and the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation’s Community and Family Services department are among the members of Resilient Del Norte, Brubaker said.
Even though Del Norte County doesn’t have an individual ACEs score, it has been combined with Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Siskiyou, Trinity and Sierra counties, said Nathan Porter, data manager for the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. The ACEs score for those seven counties is 20.1 percent, Porter said.
“We combine data for Del Norte, Lassen, Sierra, Modoc, Plumas, Siskiyou and Trinity so we can try to get data that we can publish,” he said. “We don’t have much, but that’s another way in which data can be made available. It’s a question of whether data for a county group is as useful as data for an individual county.”
The original ACEs study that established a link between childhood trauma and chronic health problems in adults was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente from 1995 to 1997. These adverse childhood experiences include living with an alcoholic parent, racism, bullying, witnessing violence outside the home, physical abuse and losing a parent to divorce.
People who have adverse childhood experiences are more likely to smoke, experience drug addiction, have problems with alcohol and are more likely to be the victim of partner violence. People with an ACEs score of four or greater are more likely to experience depression and suicide.
ACEs scores are determined by a test that can be found on websites like ACES Too High. There is also another test that gauges how resilient to trauma a person is.
The Lucile Packard Foundation disseminates ACEs data collected by a variety of sources including the National Survey for Children’s Health, California Department of Public Health’s Maternal and Infant Health Assessment and its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Porter said. Much of the data on the Lucile Packard Foundation’s website was collected between 2008 and 2013, he said.
Recent data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System established ACEs scores for 98 percent of California counties. According to Porter, the data for California’s smallest counties may have been suppressed because it may not be reliable or because the population is so sparse that releasing the data may compromise confidentiality.
The recent data showed the number of children with two or more ACEs in neighboring Humboldt and Mendocino counties are among the highest in the state. In Humboldt County 24.6 percent of children have an ACEs score of two or more. In Mendocino, 22.9 percent of children have an ACEs score of two or more.
The number of proxy indicators in Humboldt and Mendocino are high as well. According to the data, 35.4 percent of Humboldt County 9th-graders reported using alcohol or drug in the last month. In Mendocino that percentage was 40.2 percent.
More than 18 percent of ninth-graders in Humboldt County had suicidal thoughts, according to the data. The number of domestic violence calls per 1,000 calls to law enforcement in Humboldt County was 8.9 and the number of substantiated child abuse cases per 1,000 residents was 10.7.
Statewide data shows 6 domestic violence calls per 1,000 calls to police and 8.2 substantiated child abuse cases per 1,000 residents.
For Angela Glore, executive director of First 5 Del Norte, what’s alarming is the rates for alcohol abuse among ninth-graders, suicidal thoughts among ninth graders, domestic violence calls and child abuse cases for Del Norte County is much higher than in Humboldt.
More than 51 percent of ninth-graders reported alcohol and drug use. More than 33 percent of ninth-graders reported having suicidal thoughts. The number of domestic violence calls per 1,000 calls to police in Del Norte County is 45.9 and the number of substantiated child abuse cases per 1,000 residents is 22.8.
“Look at how much higher we are on almost all of these measures of things that we know are at least partially tied to and correlated with ACEs,” Glore said. “It’s really hard to convince people who don’t know a lot about this that it is a public health problem. Without that (ACEs score) it’s really hard to spur people to action on this idea that it is a crisis because people respond to a crisis.”
Holly Wendt, prevention programs coordinator at Del Norte County’s Public Health Branch, said Resilient Del Norte knows the ACEs score for the county is high because of the number of kids in foster care and the number of reported child abuse cases.
“It’s just because we’re extremely rural,” Wendt said. “Collecting all the data that epidemiologists do in other counties is much easier in larger counties, but in smaller counties we don’t have someone that looks at data and gathers it for our county and can really pull that information for us.”
Glore said she felt that combining Del Norte with other counties doesn’t give an accurate picture of the impact adverse childhood experiences has on the health of the community. She and the other members of Resilient Del Norte have been working with state Sen. Mike McGuire and Assemblyman Jim Wood to try and find out who at the California Department of Public Health decides where and how that ACEs data is collected.
Glore said she’s hoping Del Norte’s state legislators will put pressure on the Department of Public Health to over sample in the smaller counties that get continually left out of the process.
Porter said over sampling may be an option for smaller counties, but it’s often expensive.
To get accurate numbers for Del Norte, Brubaker said Resilient Del Norte would probably have to contract with and pay an organization like the Humboldt State University’s California Center for Rural Policy to conduct a survey.
“I have no clue how much it would cost. It depends how deep we’d want to go,” she said.
Brubaker said the group is also reaching out to other community members to get involved in building Del Norte’s resiliency.
“We know in our community that you can’t always stop trauma from happening, but we can start to build those protective factors,” she said, adding that she hopes people have at least five others in the community that can help them work through their adverse childhood experiences. “It’s people who care about you. (It’s) I know someone cares about me; I have someone I can talk to. Those kinds of things that will help make people successful no matter what.”