- March 2022
- Vol. 23, No. 2
Moving From ACEs to HOPE: The Power of Positive Experiences
Written by the Capacity Building Center for States
"A healing-centered approach to addressing trauma requires a different question that moves beyond 'what happened to you' to 'what's right with you' and views those exposed to trauma as agents in the creation of their own well-being rather than victims of traumatic events."—Dr. Shawn Ginwright (2018)
The landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences Study helped us understand the effects of adverse experiences (ACEs) on health outcomes, but it did not discuss the buffering effect of positive childhood experiences (Bethell, 2019). Research on positive experiences shines a light on the importance of a system that actively supports and cultivates resilience more than identifying past traumas.
The Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences (HOPE) framework provides actionable approaches that focus on family strengths and foster both child and family resilience, in effect building up positive experiences to mitigate the impact of adverse experiences. The framework identifies four building blocks:
- Relationships (both within and outside the family)
- Safe, equitable, and stable environments for living for positive childhood experiences (HOPE, n.d.), playing, and learning
- Social and civic engagement
- Emotional growth through playing and interacting with peers
A collaborative, community approach to using the HOPE framework or a similar protective factor approach can help bridge and coordinate services across systems, such as health, family support, and child welfare, all of which could be facilitators of positive childhood experiences.
Supporting Positive Childhood Experiences in Practice
By intentionally using a strengths-based approach rooted in the science of resilience, child welfare agencies can help to end longstanding practices of focusing on individual deficits. The following sections outline questions you can explore with your agency as you consider how to better identify and amplify positive childhood experiences.
Youth and Family Engagement and Empowerment
Consider the importance of engaging youth and families as collaborative partners and how authentic engagement is a positive experience that may mitigate ACEs. Ask yourselves the following:
- What are we currently doing to engage families and youth in conversations about their individual strengths and needs?
- How are families and youth receiving child welfare services linked to other families and youth with similar lived experiences?
- How are we currently gathering input and feedback from those with lived experience to help us implement our agency's approach to supporting strengths and building resilience?
- What are we currently doing to strengthen positive childhood experiences as part of our efforts to advance equity and move to a more prevention-oriented system?
Workforce Development and Casework Practices
A diverse, knowledgeable, and skilled workforce?supported by leaders and a strong agency culture?can operate in partnership with families to identify strengths and nurture positive experiences. Ask yourselves the following:
- How are caseworkers currently trained, and what can we do to ensure allyship with families is an expectation throughout the agency?
- How can we build understanding of unconscious bias (and its impact on identifying family strengths) through training, supervision, and coaching? How does our organizational culture support this approach?
- How could our hiring practices become more equitable? Is lived experience considered equivalent or comparable to professional experience?
- What are we currently doing to capture and promote family strengths in our casework? How are we documenting this information? Is our approach aligned with our vision? If not, what needs to change?
- How does our casework support the building blocks for positive childhood experiences? What steps could we take to make this a reality?
- How are we engaging the community to support positive childhood experiences?
As you consider your next steps, take a look at the following resources to learn more about the science behind positive childhood experiences and concrete strategies to support child and family hope and resilience.
Positive Childhood Experiences
The following resources offer approaches and other information to promoting positive experiences:
- Self-Regulation and Toxic Stress Series
- The Montana Institute
- HOPE National Resource Center
- Lemonade for Life
- Child Welfare Trauma Training Toolkit
- SAMHSA's Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach
Strengths-based approaches to support positive childhood experiences can align nicely with prevention efforts. The following resources can support a collaborative shift toward prevention:
- Visioning for Prevention: Protecting Children Through Strengthening Families
- Prevention Planning Into Action
- Title IV-E Prevention Program
- Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
- Collaboration Toolkit
Youth and Family Engagement Resources
Engaging youth and families is a key strategy for agencies working to build hope and resilience. The following resources can support authentic engagement of youth and families:
- Becoming a Family-Focused System
- Menu for Youth Engagement
- Casey Family Programs resources on parent partners and youth support partners
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network Resources
Bethell, C. J. (2019). Positive childhood experiences and adult mental and relational health in a statewide sample: Associations across adverse childhood experiences levels. JAMA Pediatrics, e1–e10. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2749336
Ginwright, S. (2018, May 31). The future of healing: Shifting from trauma informed care to healing centered engagement. https://ginwright.medium.com/the-future-of-healing-shifting-from-trauma-informed-care-to-healing-centered-engagement-634f557ce69c
Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences. (n.d.). HOPE: Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences. Tufts Medical Center. https://positiveexperience.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/HOPE-1-pager.pdf