© Chris Johnson | Dreamstime.com
What if . . . What if there was a place that could help parents learn stronger parenting skills while their children were still babies or toddlers? What if caregivers could learn how to better nurture their children, and have a place where they could talk about the difficulties they face each day? What if the help they received was free and available to all? What if we, as a community, could begin to address the real problems of childhood trauma so prevalent in our neighborhoods today and begin making strides towards raising healthier children?
A place to go for support
That is what one community group hopes to build. The ACE Center Task Force of Shelby County, a group of 40 community leaders, has been working to strengthen families in Memphis by helping parents learn new ways of coping with the challenges of parenting. How? With the creation of Universal Parenting Place (UPP) support centers.
“We have systems in place to deal with negative childhood results, but we don’t have anything to prevent them,” notes Barbara Nixon, a fellow at the Urban Childhood Institute and task force leader. “Mayors Wharton and Luttrell [both task force members] understand the need for these centers. They’ve been very supportive.”
ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences, exposure to events during early childhood that can lead to toxic stress: abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, neglect, dysfunction, psychological, verbal, and emotional abuse. When children are exposed to such situations, toxic stress results. That stress impacts brain development, leaving residue that can linger into adulthood in the form of emotional and/or physical health issues.
“When young children experience chronic exposure to adverse events, the resulting ‘toxic stress’ literally changes the composition of the brain,” notes researcher and author Robin Karr-Morse. “Research and the ongoing ACE Study findings show these adverse childhood experiences often lead to violence, aggression, addiction, depression, and chronic disease.” Needless to say, the toxic stress many families are exposed to in Memphis is high. The centers hope to address that.
Parents play a role
The centers are a collaborative effort led by Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women, Knowledge Quest, and Porter-Leath. Two UPP centers will be launched at Baptist Women’s and Knowledge Quest (590 Jennette Place) in South Memphis.
“We want all parents with new babies to know these centers are available and to come with their baby and talk about baby-raising. There’s a place they can go for support [without a referral],” says Nixon. How the centers will function is still to be determined, though staff will tap arts organizations like Music for Aardvarks and Playback Memphis. Nixon also hopes the focus will be shaped in part by parents themselves.
Says Karr-Morse, “Just as parents currently get to pediatricians to prevent and respond to physical challenges at the earliest point in their children’s development, the UPP centers are creating a new opportunity for parents to get trusted counsel for children’s behavioral concerns from the beginning of life — and all along the developmental cycle — as soon as challenges are discerned.”
They also plan to raise awareness among pediatricians, so that healthcare professionals can begin to ask questions of their patients that might indicate potential problems. The centers are scheduled to open later this spring.