New Study Shows Communities Can Reduce the Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences

New Study Shows Communities Can Reduce the Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences

Public-Private Partnerships in Rural Washington Communities Reduce the Effects of Trauma and Improve Well-being for Families
Aug 09, 2016

 APPI news graphic 


A new study commissioned by the Adverse Childhood Experiences Public-Private Initiative (APPI) of Washington State finds that communities can create effective, local strategies that reduce the long-term social, emotional and physical problems related to abuse, neglect, and other Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Research shows that the prevalence of 10 specific ACEs—such as witnessing domestic violence or experiencing physical abuse—trigger a stress response that can harm a child’s developing brain. That stress and trauma weakens the immune system, increasing the risk of social, emotional, and health problems in later life, from suicide and substance abuse to diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Despite modest investments and limited staff, several rural communities in Washington State were able to weave together proven programs and innovative approaches, effectively decreasing the social, emotional, and physical problems linked to trauma.

For example, in Walla Walla, new approaches to discipline at Lincoln High School led to increases in graduation rates. In the Skagit Valley, the nurse home visits helped decrease smoking and alcohol use among expectant mothers and reduce the number of babies with low birth weight. A public awareness campaign in Okanagan County led to a 10 percentage point drop in teen drinking.

Natalya Verbitsky-Savitz, Mathematica senior research statistician and principal investigator on the study, noted: “All of the community networks had to independently find resources and build coalitions to sustain their work. Going forward, their challenge will be to find resources to continue to improve children’s well-being in their communities.”

The study was a three-year effort conducted by APPI along with its evaluation partners Mathematica Policy Research and Community Science, assessing the impact of five community networks and coalitions around Washington State.

The community networks and coalitions selected by APPI for the study are:

  • The Coalition for Children & Families of North Central Washington
  • Okanogan County Community Coalition
  • Skagit County Child & Family Consortium
  • Walla Walla County Community Network/Children’s Resilience Initiative
  • Whatcom Family & Community Network.

An executive summary and a full 2016 final report with the detailed findings can be found on APPI’s website and on Mathematica’s website.

“This work is an important demonstration of the kinds of progress and positive results that can be generated from cost-effective public-private partnerships in the community,” said Greg Williamson, an assistant director at the Washington Department of Early Learning, an APPI member. “It is helping create a picture of how to improve well-being for children and families.”

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About the ACEs Public-Private Initiative and the Evaluators

APPI is an innovative collaboration of 20 public, private and community organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Casey Family Programs, Empire Health Foundation, the Thomas V. Giddens Jr. Foundation, and the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, that seeks to understand and share the policies, programs, and approaches that help prevent and mitigate that effects of ACEs on families. Learn more at


Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research firm, conducts policy research and surveys for federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector and international clients. Its mission is to improve public well-being by bringing the highest standards of quality, objectivity, and excellence to bear on the provision of information collection and analysis to its clients. Learn more at


Community Science is an award-winning research and development organization that works with governments, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on solutions to social problems through community and other systems changes. Using state-of-the-art qualitative and quantitative methods, Community Science’s goal is to strengthen the science and practice of community change in order to build healthy, just, and equitable communities. The organization’s services include research and evaluation services, capacity-building products and services, and initiative management and support. Learn more at