While scores of public agencies are working to develop resources and programs to address childhood trauma and toxic stress in their communities, San Joaquin County has been turning itself into a model for how to address the issue.

“This is not a new concept for us,” said Barbara Alberson, senior deputy director of policy and planning at the San Joaquin County Public Health Services Department. “It’s in our DNA.”

The county performed a Community Health Needs Assessment in 2016 that identified trauma and prevention as key health issues, particularly in south Stockton, a neglected area that a San Joaquin County grand jury report described as blighted, impoverished and dotted with “deteriorating housing, slumlord residential ownership … a lack of neighborhood services, and widespread drug dealing and crime.”

Since then, the community has been taking extensive efforts to address adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.

“We’re finding opportunities wherever we can to connect the dots between chronic disease and ACEs, because the evidence is quite strong,” Alberson said.

The Healthier Community Coalition, which brings together health care, government and community groups, received an $850,000 grant from the California Accountable Communities for Health Initiative. The purpose is to identify trauma victims in south Stockton and connect them with needed services, Alberson said.

Treating trauma is a multidepartmental approach. Public Health, probation officers, Child Protective Services, behavioral health workers and police all play a role, Alberson said.

“Public Health sees this as injury and violence prevention,” Alberson said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re involved.”

Stockton also received a $400,000 grant from the Sierra Health Foundation for “Crossover Youth,” a program to improve outcomes for those who have experienced significant trauma, have a history of child welfare and foster care systems and have been drawn into the juvenile justice system.

“Rather than just looking at those kids and asking ‘why are you doing things that are dangerous to yourself and others?’ they’re trying very hard to connect the dots and see what it is that brought them to that moment,” Alberson said.

Reinvest Health Stockton Coalition, a group founded by Mayor Michael Tubbs — who was born in south Stockton and raised in poverty — received a three-year grant focusing on building trauma-informed care in south Stockton.

Advocates are working to increase behavioral health access, therapy and mental health services. They’re also working on building trust between those in struggling neighborhoods and support providers.

“To truly transform trauma isn’t just about access, but how we help organizations interacting with our community to become trauma-informed,” said Hector Lara, who manages Reinvest Health South Stockton.

Pushing in resources for ACEs could create better overall health outcomes, Alberson said. She says childhood trauma is the root cause of other health challenges the community faces.

“We do a lot of work on obesity prevention and getting people to stop smoking, but if someone has something in their background that keeps them from being healthy related to ACEs, you can talk about needing to stop smoking until the cows come home, but you never address the root causes,” Alberson said. “They’ll never be able to do what they need to do to get healthy.”

​The Californian's Harold Pierce wrote this story while participating in the USC Center for Health Journalism's California Fellowship. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @RoldyPierce.

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