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There’s no mystery to what happened in Uvalde; there were many opportunities to prevent it .

 

Thousands of parents, pediatricians, social workers, educators, community advocates, kids, judges, police, district attorneys know exactly what led to Salvador Rolando Ramos running into a school and slaughtering 19 kids and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. And what could have derailed his path, as well as the path of all other recent mass shooters.

To people educated about the consequences of too many childhood adversities and too few positive experiences, what happened in Uvalde is not a mystery.

Research has established that:

  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are the root cause of most of our economic, social, physical and mental health issues.
  • People with more than four types of ACEs and few positive childhood experiences have an extraordinarily high risk of violence as both victims and perpetrators, cancer, heart disease, mental illness, alcoholism and drug use, and dying prematurely.
  • What’s an ACE? The 10 in the original CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study include physical and emotional abuse, physical and emotional neglect, sexual abuse, a parent who is addicted to alcohol or other drugs, who is depressed or mentally ill, a mother who is abused, an incarcerated family member, divorced or separated caregivers. More than 30 other ACEs have been added since the 1998 study include bullying, racism, community violence, and homelessness.
  • People who are denied economic stability, adequate housing, education and wealth because of local, state and federal policies (a.k.a., 'being poor’) are burdened with the highest ACEs but have fewer resources to mitigate toxic stress stemming from ACEs; in the U.S., inequities are compounded by racism affecting people of color and other minorities. But as the last three weeks of shootings show, everybody has ACEs or is affected by them.

Ramos had, at minimum, five types of childhood adversity that lasted for years. He experienced extreme bullying; an abusive relationship with his mother; his mother’s reported substance abuse; an absent father; and a disability (stuttering, lisp) for which kids taunted him mercilessly. We know little about his early childhood, where more ACEs may be lurking.

A child that experiences toxic stress from ACEs exhibits a fight, flee or freeze response. Ongoing toxic stress damages kids’ developing brains, and leads to them to exhibit coping behaviors, such as engaging in violence. Ramos coped with his distraught feelings by harming himself (he cut his face repeatedly with a knife) and violence, including fighting often with peers.

Of the seven positive experiences that research shows can ameliorate ACEs, Ramos apparently had only two: neighbors who cared about him and, until a while before the shooting, friends. As for the other ways that could have probably prevented him going on a shooting rampage—able to talk with his family about his feelings, feeling as if his family stood by him in tough times, participating in community, a sense of belonging in high school, and feeling safe and protected by an adult in the home—he clearly had none.

Over his short life, which seemed to be one continuous downward spiral, there were many opportunities to intervene and change the trajectory of this unhappy and angry youth.

Any of his teachers in elementary, middle school and high school could have intervened; his behavior and that of his peers, even in elementary school, would have indicated he was troubled. The schools could have integrated anti-bullying programs. The friends he had could have alerted a counselor or a member of the clergy. The police officers who were called to his home could have arranged for a social worker to visit Ramos and his mother. Some of the reported 40 percent of the Uvalde city budget spent on the police department could have gone to training police in trauma- and resilience-informed practices and hiring social workers.

Experienced teachers, cops, social workers, and members of the clergy will tell you it’s easy to spot a troubled kid. But if people who work with children don’t have a solid education about the effects of toxic stress from ACEs on a child’s brain and body (this is the WHY a child acts out), if they don’t have trauma- and resilience-informed programs at their fingertips (this is the HOW to help that child), they don’t know what to do.

The current default response to a kid who’s fighting, sleeping in class, or crawling under a table in fear is: “What’s wrong with you?” followed by some form of blame, shame and punishment. The response that has been shown hundreds of thousands of times to turn around a kid’s behavior is, “What happened to you?” followed by understanding, nurturing and healing. Schools, police departments, courts and faith-based organizations are integrating practices and policies based on the science of positive and adverse childhood experiences, with remarkable results:

  • In thousands of schools – including schools in Antioch, CA, Suisun City, CA, San Francisco, CA, Spokane, WA, San Diego, CA, and Walla Walla, WA — that integrated trauma-informed practices, suspensions and expulsions have dropped or been eliminated, while grades and graduation rates increase.
  • Safe Babies Courts show that one year after participating 99% of the children suffer no further abuse.
  • Batterer intervention programs that have integrated ACEs science reduce recidivism from 30–60% to just 1%.
  • Plymouth County, MA — combines law enforcement, rehab centers, and hospitals in a joint cross-sector program that has resulted in a 26% drop in opioid deaths v. an 84% increase in deaths in surrounding counties.

Some experts say a child needs only “one caring adult” to help them succeed. But this works only if all of our systems—education, faith-based, justice, etc.—educate their staff about childhood adversity and implement trauma- and resilience-informed practices to create an environment where most adults are a “caring adult”. Otherwise, the likelihood of a troubled child being lucky enough to run across that one caring adult who can help them is slim to none, and a child with an overwhelming amount of childhood adversity who needs many caring adults, as was the case with Ramos, is zero.

Obviously, not every child overburdened with adversity and with few positive experiences ends up shooting people. Most don’t; the damage done to their brains and bodies manifests in other ways, such as chronic illness, addiction, divorce, and a myriad of other maladies. (PACEs Science 101.) As has been said: “ACEs are not destiny.” If children understand that the adversity they experience is not their fault, that they had no control over it, that the way they cope (fighting, smoking, drinking, thrill sports, etc.), is a normal response if they are not taught otherwise, and that they can heal…this provides all of us with hope.

But when there’s not sufficient intervention, as happened with Ramos, and he expresses his childhood adversities through violence, and then we make it easier for him to buy an assault rifle than a pack of cigarettes, then we have failed. We have failed Ramos, failed the 19 children and two adults he killed, the people he injured, their families, the community and the millions deeply affected by their deaths.

This is written not to excuse his actions—they are indefensible—but to understand him so that we can make sure communities derail kids from the path taken by Ramos. Because if we know nothing else, we know this: There will be more.

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Thank you so much for this very insightful piece! I have been working on something, but this highlights in a powerful way what needs to be said and worked on more powerfully and concisely than I ever could!! Is being widely circulated!! Thanks you again!!

Here's a piece I wrote a while back on Alice MIller's THE BODY NEVER LIES! In it, I report the discovery of the LOST COMMANDMENT https://www.naturalchild.org/a...er/bnl_review_3.html

LOST COMMANDMENT: (Suppose this were true and in our collective consciousness for the past 3000 years?)

Parents should honor and empower their children, so that they, their children and their children's children will live their own truths over long and authentic lives!

The health of ALL children needs to be of real importance to everyone — and not just concern over what other parents’ children might or will cost us as future criminals or costly cases of government care, etcetera — regardless of how well our own developing children are doing. And that a physically and mentally sound future should be every child’s fundamental right — along with air, water, food and shelter — especially considering the very troubled world into which they never asked to enter.

Owing to the Only If It’s In My Own Back Yard mindset, however, the prevailing collective attitude (implicit or subconscious) basically follows: ‘Why should I care — my kids are alright?’ or ‘What is in it for me, the taxpayer, if I support social programs for other people’s troubled families?’ While some people will justify it as a normal thus moral human evolutionary function, the self-serving OIIIMOBY can debilitate social progress, even when social progress is most needed. And it seems this distinct form of societal penny wisdom but pound foolishness is a very unfortunate human characteristic that’s likely with us to stay.

Thank you for your insightful article. It is so very sad that so many warning signs went unnoticed by so many. It breaks my heart not only for him, but his grandmother and all those who were killed in this tragedy. Not only do we need to educate more people about trauma but also teach students warning signs and when to report to an adult.

Thank you so much for this very insightful piece! I have been working on something, but this highlights in a powerful way what needs to be said and worked on more powerfully and concisely than I ever could!! Is being widely circulated!! Thanks you again!!

Here's a piece I wrote a while back on Alice MIller's THE BODY NEVER LIES! In it, I report the discovery of the LOST COMMANDMENT https://www.naturalchild.org/a...er/bnl_review_3.html

LOST COMMANDMENT: (Suppose this were true and in our collective consciousness for the past 3000 years?)

Parents should honor and empower their children, so that they, their children and their children's children will live their own truths over long and authentic lives!

PREVENTION

Thank you Peter Chiavetta for your comments in that blue box you created concerning parent-child "connecting" being necessary for true prevention of the social ills taking place in our society.

As Gabor Mate' states: The main focus should not be on the child's behavior; it should be on the parent-child relationship.

Pick up crying babies and be aware of their thought fears.

Bring out a young child's spirituality and psychological resilience by forming a thought connection with the child early.

Continue to ask the child the question; "What are your fears", listen, and let the child process. Then guide.

...

Are infants/toddlers who are not aware they're in a fake environment still used in the production of negatively melodramatic or hyper-emotional small and big screen entertainment? One would think the practice would have been discontinued by now, due to current knowledge about the susceptibilities of the developing infant/toddler brain, but I'd like to know for sure.

Contemporary research tells me that, since it cannot fight or flight, a baby stuck in a crib on its back hearing parental discord in the next room can only “move into a third neurological state, known as  a ‘freeze’ state … This freeze state is a trauma state” (Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal, pg.123).

This causes its brain to improperly develop; and if allowed to continue, it’s the helpless infant’s starting point towards a childhood, adolescence and (in particular) adulthood in which its brain uncontrollably releases potentially damaging levels of inflammation-promoting stress hormones and chemicals, even in non-stressful daily routines.

I also now know that it’s the unpredictability of a stressor, and not the intensity, that does the most harm. When the stressor “is completely predictable, even if it is more traumatic — such as giving a [laboratory] rat a regularly scheduled foot shock accompanied by a sharp, loud sound — the stress does not create these exact same [negative] brain changes.” (pg. 42) ...

Decades before reading Sigmund Freud’s theories or any others regarding very early life trauma, I’d always cringe at how producers and directors of negatively melodramatic scenes — let alone the willing parents of the undoubtedly extremely upset infants and toddlers used — could comfortably conclude that no psychological harm would result in the baby ‘actors’ screaming in bewilderment.

Initially I’d presumed there was an educated general consensus within the entertainment industry on this matter, perhaps even on the advice of mental health academia, otherwise the practice would logically compassionately cease. But I became increasingly doubtful of the accuracy of any such educated consensus.

Cannot one logically conclude by observing their turmoil-filled facial expressions that they’re perceiving, and likely cerebrally recording, the hyper-emotional scene activity around them at face value rather than as a fictitious occurrence?

I could understand the practice commonly occurring within a naïve entertainment industry of the 20th Century, but I’m still seeing it in contemporary small and big screen movie productions. ... One relatively recent example, in the movie Hustlers (with actress Jennifer Lopez), has a toddler who is clearly actually distraught, wailing while caught in between a screaming match between mother (“Destiny”) and father characters.

An older example is in the 2008 movie Pride and Glory, where actor Colin Farrell’s crooked-cop character holds a screaming baby while threatening to hot-iron its face if he doesn’t get the information he wants from the infant’s gangster father. There's hyper-dramatic screaming by all the characters, of course, but not all are aware it’s just acting.

And let’s not overlook the melodramatic scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in which a rocking Severus Snape wails over a dead Lily Potter in his arms, as the Harry-Potter-as-an-infant ‘actor’ also cries at what he perceives as genuine heartbreaking-loss mourning.

The contents of this article are very important.

Some blame should be placed upon the young shooter's own high-school ordeal years earlier. Yes, Ramos had been brutally bullied in high school, in no small part due to a speech impediment. Although I've not heard anything indicating he had autism spectrum disorder (ASD) issues, neurodevelopmental disorders among young people who commit school or mass shootings are not uncommon.

Adverse childhood experience abuse/trauma is often inflicted upon ASD and/or highly sensitive children and teens by their normal or ‘neurotypical’ peers, so why not at least acknowledge it in some meaningful, constructive way? For one thing, neurodiversity could be taught in school, albeit not overly complicated or extensive, to perhaps reduce the incidence of chronic bullying against such vulnerable students.

By extension, we might prevent an eventual bloody retaliation on some school day in the form of a mass shooting of innocent students, including peers who’d never even talked to the tortured-student-turned-gunman, let alone offended him.

Such neurodiversity curriculum could explain to students how, among other aspects of the condition, people with ASD (including those with higher functioning autism) are often erroneously deemed willfully ‘difficult’ and socially incongruent, when in fact such behavior is really not a choice but instead instinctual.

Furthermore, when around their normal or “neurotypical” peers, people with ASD typically feel compelled to “camouflage” or “mask,” terms used to describe their attempts at appearing to naturally fit in, an effort known to cause their already high anxiety and/or depression levels to worsen. And, of course, this exacerbation is reflected in the disproportionately high rate of suicide among ASD people.

PREVENTION

Thank you Peter Chiavetta for your comments in that blue box you created concerning parent-child "connecting" being necessary for true prevention of the social ills taking place in our society.

As Gabor Mate' states: The main focus should not be on the child's behavior; it should be on the parent-child relationship.

Pick up crying babies and be aware of their thought fears.

Bring out a young child's spirituality and psychological resilience by forming a thought connection with the child early.

Continue to ask the child the question; "What are your fears", listen, and let the child process. Then guide.

...

Great work, Jane!

Most county level, public health -maternal child health (MCH) departments - lead a multidisciplinary “child death review team” (ages 0-18) and develop an annual prevention focused report which is presents their learnings to the state. Sample CDRT report and Federal Resources

Q: How have local CDRTs integrated child death review processes from mass shooting?  
Q: Have CDRTs made distinction between fire arm injury and mass casualty incidents involving children?  
Q: Have CDRTs adapted their investigation practices to elicit a deeper understanding of the role of upstream factors such adverse childhood experiences?

From a systems change perspective - these are achievable actions that have the potential to inform health policy - with an emphasis on prevention.

Effective prevention of fire arm injuries requires an ACEs informed lens.
Karen Clemmer

Last edited by Karen Clemmer (PACEs Connection Staff)

"Some of the reported 40 percent of the Uvalde city budget spent on the police department could have gone to training police in trauma- and resilience-informed practices and hiring social workers."

^^^ THIS please! 🙌🏻

It can't be left unsaid that bullying and ACEs happen in every country in the world, wherever humans exist, but the US is unique in that a troubled teen can go buy a military grade weapon with no trouble. Then we have a double whammy here of offering no mental health or social services.

Powerful truths, solid recommendations, solutions and examples, Jane.
Thank you.

Now to ask our members to share this blog with every teacher, principal, counselor, coach, minister, priest, rabbi, imam, police officer, sheriff, judge, district attorney, physician, county manager or employee, local elected official, statewide official and their congressional representatives and senators. Or at least people from that list.

We make the sharing easy with the social media links just below the blog.

Someday one of these posts is going to get to enough people who want change and are willing to work for it, such as leaders of the 400+ cross sector initiatives supported by PACEs Connection and the many that are being supported by complementary organizations with which we are connecting. Someday there will be enough of these organizations and people involved to help us reach that “tipping point” where the success of this movement to prevent and heal trauma, and to help children, families and communities build sustainable resilience, is a forgone conclusion.

In the meantime, I hope all reading this will do what you can by sharing this post. When people know better, they ar least have the choice to be kinder, more compassionate, work toward asking “What happened to you and how may I help?” instead of “What’s wrong with you?”


Carey

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