Building Strong Brains / TN ACEs


Addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences in Tennessee

Chronic childhood trauma, or what experts call adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), can disrupt a child's brain-building process. Like building a house in a storm or with below-grade materials and tools, ACEs are toxic to brain development and can compromise the brain’s structural integrity. Left unaddressed, ACEs and their effects make it more difficult for a child to succeed in school, live a healthy life, and contribute to the state’s future prosperity — our communities, our workforce, and our civic life.

Building Strong Brains: Tennessee ACEs Initiative is a major statewide effort to establish Tennessee as a national model for how a state can promote culture change in early childhood based on a philosophy that preventing and mitigating adverse childhood experiences, and their impact, is the most promising approach to helping Tennessee children lead productive, healthy lives and ensure the future prosperity of the state.

The Tennessee state initiative is born from research gathered in the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and their effects on life-long health and well-being. The study found that the greater the exposure to things such as domestic violence, addiction, and depression in early childhood, the greater the risk for later-life problems such as the higher risk for chronic illnesses, poverty, depression, and addictive behaviors.

Tennessee is undertaking a comprehensive effort to use this powerful insight to improve the lives of the state’s children. Leaders from the state government, the business world, advocates, insurers, academia, and nonprofit foundations are organized as public and private sector steering groups to guide implementation and provide leadership at the state, regional, and community levels. 

The Goals 

  • Increase the potential that every child born in Tennessee has the opportunity to lead a healthy,  productive life.
  • Raise public knowledge about ACEs.
  • Impact public policy in Tennessee to support the prevention of ACEs and to reduce community conditions that contribute to them.
  • Support innovative local and state projects that offer fresh thinking and precise measurement of impact in addressing ACEs and toxic stress in children.
  • Seek sustainable funding to ensure the state maintains a long-term commitment to reducing the impact of adverse childhood experiences.
  • Embrace open, responsive governance through statewide planning groups and the Three Branches Institute, comprised of leadership from the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government, who were invited by the Governor to form a common agenda to advance child welfare and realign the juvenile justice system.


AOF FY22 Recipients

Advancing Healing: Advance Memphis

Advance Memphis, a nonprofit focused on job readiness, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship training has begun to learn about trauma and trauma-informed practices. Through a partnership with ACCESS Consulting, we seek to deepen our knowledge of trauma and further improve our practices and policies. Advancing Healing will provide a framework for developing our staff and organization to better serve our participants by following a plan devised to fit our specific South Memphis community and our specific mission, helping our students achieve and maintain economic security. The plan will include listening to stakeholders, equipping staff and volunteers with customized training, forming ongoing support structures to deepen and apply learnings, and creating policies and procedures to sustain long-term TIC in the organization. Through this project, we hope to grow from a trauma-sensitive organization to a fully trauma-informed organization, create a model for other workforce development organizations, and improve outcomes for our students, their families, and the entire community.

Global Health: Strong Brain Institute

In this project, we will provide ACEs-informed and responsive educator preparation personnel and teacher candidates with the tools to establish optimally efficacious (i.e., safe, stable, and nurturing) workspaces and learning environments for themselves and rural K-12 students. This project has 3
main components: training, coaching, and assessment. Introducing an ACEs-informed curriculum into a standard teacher candidate curriculum and partnering with those key stakeholders responsible for implementing and maintaining education curricula, can help ensure that early career teachers view their world through an ACEs-informed lens and become compassionate educators and contributors to
their schools and larger communities.

Loudon County Schools

Loudon County Schools will partner with the Health Dept., Align9 Prevention Alliance, and the Sheriff’s Dept. to increase awareness and understanding of ACES and the negative impact they have on individuals and the community. The evidence-based program Second Step will be provided to the schools, parent training, and workshops will be offered, a multi-media campaign and a resource directory will be developed and implemented. TN’s Building a Trauma-Informed System of Care toolkit will be utilized. Teacher and family anti-ACEs toolboxes will be provided through this grant.

Building Resiliency in East Tennessee: Metro Drug Coalition

Metro Drug Coalition is poised to develop an academic detailing program for ACEs training and implementation in pediatric primary care practices. The state of California has developed a toolkit for practitioners that provides the rationale, questionnaires, and clinic workflow suggestions to establish a protocol that is simple and provides some reimbursement through Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program). We propose to develop a similar toolkit for healthcare providers to assess our targeted population, children, ages 1-12, and teens, ages 13-19. It is imperative to identify the ACEs in children as early as possible for all children because of the effects that overactive stress has on the development of their brains and bodies. The lasting impact of ACEs on children's emotional and physical well-being shortens their life expectancy and quality of life. Prevention education is the key for pediatric health care professionals to refine their approach to identifying the risk factors and intervention resources to reduce childhood adversity. Prevention and intervention of ACEs will become an essential component of the patients’ care and follow-up. By identifying ACEs as early in the developing child as possible, mitigation strategies can assist families in getting the services they may need to build resiliency in their children as well as providing support for parents who may be exhibiting the negative impact of their own history of traumatic events. This approach is going to be imperative to mitigate and reduce the transmission of intergenerational trauma

Nurture TN: Nurture the Next

Nurture TN is a parent education and support program for vulnerable, prenatal, and new mothers. Enrolled mothers are matched with volunteer mentors who are themselves mothers and receive parenting education, support, and resource referrals through an interactive text communications platform.

Creating Supportive School and Community Environments: STEP, Inc.

This project addresses the unique need that exists for families, school resource officers, school safety teams, school administrators, and the community to understand the impact officers in schools have on the lives of children and youth, specifically those with disabilities. Through training and skill-building, participants will gain an understanding of the role of school resource officers in schools, and the need to promote positive interactions. Additionally, families will be provided information on the role of school resource officers and how to share information about their children to lead to students being provided effective supports on the school campus. Finally, the community will be engaged in positive messaging and outreach to be supportive of the schools and families in their communities, with a focus on families of children with disabilities and youth who have been dually impacted by disability and ACEs.

Map of Building Strong Brains Community Innovations  

Download a state-wide map listing Building Strong Brains projects across Tennessee. 

Learn More 

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