This post originally appeared on PACEs Connection on July 19, 2022.

BJ (Betty) Adkins shares her passion for helping communities overcome trauma as coleader of a team that is seeding PACEs throughout Kentucky. Starting with a planning grant from the Foundation for Healthy Kentucky in 2012, her team of community stakeholders initiated the Bounce Coalition. Bounce reaches educators, administrators, service providers, and parents throughout Kentucky counties who are adopting the Bounce trauma-informed model. More than 16,000 people have been trained in ACEs science.

Her understanding began at a personal level, when Adkin’s father was transferred from their suburban Louisville home to work in an impoverished rural county in eastern Kentucky. One of six children—five girls and one brother—Adkins, still a teenager, remained in Louisville by getting married. Her marriage ended when her children were young. She worked to support her children while attending a nearby community college and then enrolled in the University of Louisville after earning her associate degree.

“Community college laid the base for getting my bachelor’s in 1991 and my master’s in education, counseling, and psychology in 1993,” says Adkins, who also practiced in the field for a while.

Reflecting on how she was able to raise two young children while working and earning a college degree, she says, “It gave me a true understanding of trauma, a true understanding of blessings, and a true understanding of determination and achievement.”

An earlier childhood experience also contributed to her understanding of trauma. Because her mother’s illness created barriers for her to always be available for her children, when Adkins was five, she walked over to a neighbor, who took her in. “My surrogate mother went through my life challenges with me, including my divorce. She was my blessing,” she says, pointing out how important a difference one person can make in a child’s and an adult’s life.

Jumping into the Startup Experience

While in college, Adkins was offered the opportunity to start Shively Area Ministries in Jefferson County, KY, in 1989. As executive director, she enlisted a cadre of volunteers who helped provide food, clothing, and financial assistance for medication, utilities, and housing to community residents. Always ready to take on new leadership roles, she was elected the first female president of the Shively Rotary Club and began and led a business association in Shively.

In 2000, Adkins became the primary grant writer and community resource development director for the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness. With 15 years of experience writing public health grants, she jumped to the task in 2012 when the Foundation for Healthy Kentucky announced a grant for a plan to ensure the state’s children are healthy when they become adults.

She wrote an application and organized a coalition that drew from experts in education, government, health care, and service providers. They called it the Coalition for Youth. In applying for the planning grant, the coalition followed the premise that “If the problem lies in the community, the solution to the problem lies with the community.” The planning grant aimed to embrace an understanding of the social determinants of health and health equity focusing on the 100,000 children enrolled in Jefferson County public schools.

Integrating ACEs

Every month over the next 13 months, the coalition met to explore best practices and review datasets, including everything from nutrition to teen pregnancy and mental health issues impacting children. That was when the team recognized that all these issues pointed to ACEs and learned about the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.

“All those datasets represent ACEs. ACEs brought it all together and it became powerful,” she recalls.

After presenting their plan, the coalition was invited to apply for implementation funding. The next step was to develop a business plan which made the organization financially viable and spelled out the steps it would take to reach its goals.

The Bounce Coalition

In 2014, after receiving a second round of funding from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, the newly named Bounce Coalition established clear goals: to provide education and training, measure for results, and identify policy change.

Grounded in the Whole Child Model developed by the CDC, the team recognized that “a child should always be around someone who understands ACEs, whether in or out of school, so that wherever that child went, that child had someone who understood trauma,” she says. That meant ACEs training extended from teachers to parents, administrators, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and out-of-school-time staff.

The second objective was to set up a rigorous evaluation system from the start. A lead evaluator for Jefferson County Public Schools systematically assessed the evaluation survey for the implementation school, a control school with similar demographics, and the district overall.

The results after the first three years of intervention (2014–2017) were promising: a 56 percent improvement in staff skill level in supporting students who experienced traumatic events. Other positive results included increased teacher retention, improved student attendance, and lower rates of out-of-school suspensions. In addition, parent conferences jumped from 231 to 681 with the PTA growing from zero to 213 members.

The school children, reporting through the Comprehensive School Survey, expressed feeling safe at school, being able to talk to a trusted adult, and that teachers really cared about them.

“That set the stage,” says Adkins. “Bounce took off,” receiving grants from several foundations in Louisville Metro and requests for training in organizations such as Louisville’s trauma hospital, youth residential homes, and corporations.

The Bounce Coalition spread out to a rural county school district and then came up against COVID, which “put us off [schedule] a little bit.” Now with more funding from the foundation, Bounce plans to set up ACEs training in other counties and include issues of racial equity. “It takes 2-3 years in a school to know we are really making an impact,” Adkins explains.

Bounce Training Programs

The Bounce Coalition has developed training modules for everyone from interested learners to trauma practitioners. Bounce trainers offer Bounce 101, Bounce 102, Racial Trauma Healing, and self-care training, among others. Over 200 participants have attended Bounce University to become certified Bounce trainers.

Twice a year, the coalition offers Bounce Grand Rounds on Zoom for Kentucky participants. A committee selects a case study based on a relevant topic, such as children with incarcerated parents, in the judicial system, foster care, and misplacement among other issues. With medical providers and other professionals, including educators and therapists, in attendance, a case study is presented, and participants go into breakout rooms and collaborate on giving guidance for addressing the child’s needs. The session takes two hours, and people are welcome to submit potential case studies to Bounce Grand Rounds.