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California PACEs Action

Let’s ditch the “been there, done that” approach to solving our most intractable problems


In 1992, the California Wellness Foundation launched the Violence Prevention Project (VPI), which funded violence-prevention programs and research for 10 years. The initiative was unusual for two main reasons: It advocated a public health approach to preventing violence, which the CDC had identified as an epidemic in 1983. And the funding lasted for 10 years, practically unheard of in those days and criticized. Eight other funders eventually joined the initiative. With the exception of the science of adverse childhood experiences (the ACE Study wasn’t published until 1998), the root causes identified then are the same as now: inadequate employment, education, healthcare and housing, and racism and discrimination.

The VPI’s components included policy, community grants, a leadership program, and a research program. The VPI was extremely successful: The state banned Saturday Night Specials, the gun of choice in those days; this led to other gun-control measures in the state. Besides VPI funding, the State of California provided $50 million in grants to 18 communities to reduce juvenile crime. Communities established a cross-sector approach to managing the funds. The projects provided mentoring and support to thousands of youth across the state, local gun-violence programs proliferated, including “community violence interrupters”. The state budget for preventing youth violence grew to $370 million in 2002.

In 2003, the funding stopped. The California Wellness Foundation moved on to other projects, as did the other funders. Many people forgot about the public health approach to preventing violence. But the people living the problems didn’t. It was another 10 years before another significant violence-prevention project, Cure Violence, gained traction.

From 1994 to 2012, the Family Policy Council, led by PACEs science pioneer Laura Porter in Washington State, deployed a self-healing communities model in 42 mostly rural communities across the state to address the consequences of ACEs. Communities set up local community public health and safety networks. They used the model for eight or more years to reduce the rates of seven major social problems: child abuse and neglect, family violence, youth violence, youth substance abuse, dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, and youth suicide. Some communities saw improvements in five problems at the same time. In one county suicides and suicide attempts dropped 98%. Per-year avoided caseload costs in child welfare, juvenile justice and public medical costs associated with births to teen mothers were calculated to be over $601 million, an average of $120 million per year, for a public investment of $3.4 million per year.

In 2012, the state legislature defunded all of the networks and the Family Policy Council. A public-private partnership was to be set up but collapsed. Funding was provided for four communities, but the efforts were a shadow of the council's network. Washington State created the Department of Children, Youth, and Families in 2017. It merged the state’s welfare, early learning, and juvenile rehabilitation agencies. It turned its focus to a strengths-based approach only and stopped educating people about ACEs and integrating policies and practices based on PACEs science as core to its work. The funding went away, but the problems, which were beginning to dissipate, came back.

The two limiting factors to the Family Policy Council’s work: They didn't have a modern robust social network (they had a rudimentary network, but Facebook and other complex social networks hadn’t been invented yet), and effective, regular storytelling, i.e., regular news articles about the work.

Can you imagine if these two efforts had been funded appropriately for another 20 years? The VPI could have integrated PACEs science and had their communities join PACEs Connection in 2012. The Family Policy Council could have added a social network, or, better yet, have their communities join PACEs Connection so that they could have worked together to continue to develop ever more innovative approaches to solving our most intractable problems, have a place to tell their stories and to continue to develop relationships across the U.S. and the world.

My pitch: Collectively in the PACEs movement, we’ve made huge progress over the last 10 years. Amazing training programs from organizations such as ACE Interface and the Trauma Resource Institute’s Community Resilience Model have educated millions. We have hundreds of millions to go. Hundreds of thousands of organizations across sectors have been developing and implementing practices and policies based on PACEs science. We have tens of millions remaining. The Campaign for Trauma Informed Policy and Practice (CTIPP) has lit up the legislative path to integrating this knowledge in federal programs. Our role is to coalesce all these efforts into a mighty movement and to continue to figure out better ways to support the movement as it evolves.

If PACEs Connection goes away, we will take too many steps back in the momentum of this movement, because we won’t be able to put our plan to scale the number of communities from the hundreds into the thousands so that we can achieve a tipping point in this country. We have 470+ communities at various stages of development on PACEs Connection now. We’re aiming for 5,000 over the next five years. That may sound like a lot, but in the U.S. alone there are about 34,000 towns, cities and counties.

I don’t want us to have to reinvent the wheel. So, until we obtain the funding we need to become self-sustaining and eventually fund nascent PACEs initiatives, please support us, in two ways:

WE NEED MEMBERS WHO ARE WILLING AND ABLE TO DONATE MONEY!!! Whatever you can afford will certainly help. Over the last two weeks, we’ve had a few members already donate significant amounts ($5,000 to $10,000). For that, we are extremely grateful. DONATE HERE!

foundations, corporate givers, individuals—who are in the position of providing large donations. Please reach out to them and explain what our PACEs/trauma-informed movement has already achieved and can achieve, with their partnership and assistance.

If you have questions, or want to connect us with a funder, email me at or call 707-495-1112.

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