When Chicago physician Audrey Stillerman first read the 1998 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, she felt gut-punched.
“I had been taking care of patients for over twenty years. I always had a sense that people’s experiences and relationships were really important in terms of their overall health,” said Stillerman, associate director of medical affairs for the University of Illinois Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health Initiative.
For years, she’d felt like an outlier in her field—a Western-trained family practitioner who was interested in integrative medicine and social determinants of health, a doctor who resisted the “pill for every ill” approach. The research on ACEs made her think, “Oh, this is what I’ve been noticing and couldn’t articulate.”
In 2015, the Illinois ACEs Response Collaborative strategically held five screenings of the movie Paper Tigers—James Redford’s documentary about the dramatic reboot of a local alternative school after its principal became an advocate of trauma-informed care. Each screening was standing-room only.
The groundswell of interest sparked by the Paper Tigers screenings provided both “new opportunities and challenges” said Maggie Litgen, manager of the ACEs program for the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, which helped found the Illinois ACEs Response Collaborative in 2011. “We’ve created this engaged audience…but what to do with the thousand people who want to be involved?”
For starters, the Illinois ACEs Response Collaborative now has all those names in its database; they’ll receive invitations to future trainings and events. “And I’ll be going to them for an environmental scan to find out: Are you doing trauma-informed work?” Litgen says. “The films helped us gauge which sectors are interested, and we’ve followed up with every funder who showed up.”
The first time Alexandrea Murphy heard someone at a meeting of the Illinois ACE Response Collaborative use the phrase, “Hurt people hurt people,” she scribbled down those four words so she wouldn’t forget.
In an area—Cook County, home to Chicago and the second most populous county in the nation—that has been plagued by devastating gun violence, that phrase helped her think differently about the rising number of shootings and deaths.
“It resonates,” said Murphy, Senior Manager at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, the backbone organization for the MARC grant. “People who are hurt are not thinking and living and engaging in their communities in the way that they want to. They haven’t been supported in the way they needed.”
Those words confirmed, for her, that the state’s ACE Collaborative—a four-year-old, multi-sector group of leaders in health, mental health, policy, law and academia—needed to keep doing its work.
The Health Federation of Philadelphia serves as a keystone supporting a network of Community Health Centers as well as the broader base of public and private-sector organizations that deliver health and human services to vulnerable populations.