California’s first-ever surgeon general prioritizes children’s health

Nurse holding a baby and a woman in a suit looking at the baby

February/March of 2017, in a two-part series on how trauma affects children, this blog highlighted a 16-minute talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris that has been viewed on YouTube 1.8 million times.

Dr. Burke Harris, a pediatrician trained at the UC Davis School of Medicine, has been hailed as a leading voice in transforming our understanding of how children’s traumatic experiences can trigger serious physical and mental illness.

A Jamaican-American who grew up in Palo Alto, Dr. Burke Harris created a screening tool to help doctors detect Adverse Childhood Experiences and direct caregivers to appropriate treatment services. So-called “ACEs” can include physical abuse, substance abuse, poverty and mental illness—experiences common in the lives of the foster children served by Sierra Forever Families.

In February, Dr. Burke Harris, 43, was sworn in as California’s first-ever surgeon general. She says one of her highest priorities in this new role is to expand the use of assessments for abuse and extreme stress in children. “I was so excited to be appointed,” she says, “because I think California has an incredible opportunity to lead the nation in our response to ACE and toxic stress.” Gov. Newsom’s January budget proposal includes $45 million to begin screening Medi-Cal patients for ACES, beginning in 2020.

Dr. Burke Harris foresees a future where screening for traumatic stress is as routine for pediatricians as screening for hearing or vision. She also advocates for coordinated, comprehensive treatment that wraps a child in care, treating mind, body and spirit.

It’s increasingly common for professionals who work with children to be trained in how academic and behavioral problems can be rooted in trauma. As an agency, Sierra Forever Families is dedicated to trauma-informed care for children. Long before children can be placed in a foster home, Sierra Forever Families educates its resource families about the effects of chronic stress on a child’s brain and how to parent from a trauma-informed approach.

Sierra Forever Families supports its resource families in their dedication to growing resilient, thriving children and moving them beyond their rough start in life. Our trained therapists offer individual, family and group therapy, as well as skills training to the youth and caregiver, with a specialty focus on trauma, grief and loss, attachment and permanency issues. In addition, we assist with educational, social and medical resources and supports.

You can watch Dr. Burke Harris’ viral TED talk on YouTube: How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime