The Institute for Safe Families' National Summit on Adverse Childhood Experiences

On May 13 and 14, 2013 with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Institute for Safe Families hosted the first ever National Summit on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

  1. Dr. Rob Anda at the National Summit on ACEs in Philadelphia

    As co-principal investigator of the original ACE study, Anda wants to stop ACEs before they can damage the next generation.

  2. Dr. Andrew Garner: Peering into the Black Box of Toxic Stress

    At the ACEs Summit, Garner noted that, "Advances in basic developmental science and the ACEs study are forcing us to reconsider the childhood origins of lifelong health and disease."

  3. Stress in the City: Urban ACE Studies

    The Philadelphia Urban ACE Study reveals higher levels of toxic stress as a result of growing up poor, experiencing racial discrimination or living in violent communities, which can play a role in racial and ethnic health disparities.

  4. Listening with Love

    "All I do is listen for the stories that nobody else hears,"
    says pediatrician Ken Ginsburg about how working with youth who have suffered adversity demands openness and love.

  5. On the ACEs Frontier: What's Happening around the Country

    "Mapping the Movement", a project of ACEs Connection and ISF, charts national momentum around ACEs and resilience.

  6. Talking the Talk

    Leaders who attended the ACEs Summit are working on solutions to mitigate toxic stress and spread the word to increase understanding of how it impacts brain development and health.

See Also

Video Interviews

Nine leaders at the ACEs Summit share their perspectives about the future of ACEs prevention

ACEs Summit Materials

Videos of keynote and session presentations and related materials from the Institute for Safe Families

ACEs Screenshot
ACEs Screenshot

The Truth About ACEs

View the full infographic

Q & A with Martha Davis, ISF

We spoke with Martha Davis, the Executive Director of the Institute in the days leading up to the ACEs Summit.

Q: What are your goals for the event?

Martha: We want to advance the national dialogue on ACEs, trauma, toxic stress, and resilience. We want to create a shared vision and language and plan of action for what comes next.

Q: Who will be at the event?

Martha: We have leaders who are doing remarkable and groundbreaking work in research, policy and practice related to the treatment and/or prevention of ACEs. We also have a group of funders who will be coming. We began organizing this summit with folks from pediatric care, but we’ve expanded it to include child welfare, juvenile justice, and educators.

Q: Why hold this event now?

Martha: This year marks the 15th anniversary since the original ACE study and I think we're in the midst of a non-violent revolution. One of our speakers and an Institute for Safe Families founding board member— Dr. Sandy Bloom — likens it to the understanding of germ theory. It’s a knowledge and science revolution that has the potential to save lives.

This past year, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a statement about the impact of toxic stress on children’s development. It’s providing a biological framework and imperative for why we must do something now. There’s been tremendous advancement in neuroscience and even epigenetics that help explain how and why adverse childhood experiences cause later health problems. It’s a real shift in the conversation. For example, it says to pediatricians that if one of the predictors of long-term health and well-being is the level of toxic stress children are exposed to, then they have role to play in treatment and prevention. In the past, you might have asked, “What is wrong with you?” If you know about the ACE study, if you have a trauma-informed perspective, you might ask instead, “What happened to you?” It’s simple, but it’s a profound question that changes everything about how we practice and conduct policy and research.

Q: What are the greatest hurdles faced by those who are working to intervene or address the impact of ACEs face today?

Martha: One of the hurdles to overcome is the status quo, and those who don’t want to do things differently. Or there are people who don’t want to acknowledge and shift priorities based on how many children and their families in our communities live in poverty.

What we learned from the ACE study is that early exposure to adversity will predictively create problems; if something happened to you as a child, then it’s predictively going to cause problematic, high risk behaviors and later health issues and ACEs may even determine how long you live. So another hurdle that we’re working to overcome is the challenge of preventing childhood exposure to adversity. How does one do that?

What’s the role of healthcare providers? How can we deliver an integrated, primary behavioral healthcare system? How can we connect people in need to each other and to care? What policies around early education or law enforcement should exist if we know this information? How do we build the capacity and readiness in communities to respond to the overwhelming levels of adversity and where do we find those resources? How can we institutionalize resilience? And how do we change big systems that have done things a certain way for so long? And how do we align all of our practice and all of our policies across multiple systems to function in ways that acknowledge and understand the full impact of early trauma? These are big questions. They require nothing less than a paradigm shift.

I am confident and excited that, if you put this brilliant collection of leaders and thinkers together, we will come up with a more unified voice about how to prevent the predictable and define what’s next.

Martha Davis, executive director, Institute for Safe Families

Martha Davis