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California Surgeon General Launches Statewide Listening Tour Focused On Childhood Trauma

Sammy Caiola / Capital Public Radio

California's first surgeon general, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, launched a statewide listening tour at the Fruit Ridge Community Collaborative in South Sacramento on April 2.

Sammy Caiola / Capital Public Radio

California’s first surgeon general wants educators and doctors to pay closer attention to childhood trauma

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is filling the new post, which Gov. Gavin Newsom created shortly after taking office. California is one of four states with its own surgeon general.

At a community resource center in South Sacramento Tuesday, Burke Harris launched a statewide “listening tour,” during which she’ll visit communities to learn about health issues related to trauma. She says preventing diseases that stem from adversity early in life is one of the biggest public health challenges facing the state.

“My hope is to be able to be part of changing the odds for kids growing up in communities like Oak Park,” she said. “A big part of it is coming out and listening, bringing that back to the governor’s office”

Burke Harris is a pediatrician and a leading expert in ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences. Examples include verbal and physical abuse, neglect, poverty, substance addiction and mental illness. If ACEs are spotted early, doctors and teachers hope to intervene to improve health outcomes.

Burke Harris says kids who experience these events early in life are at higher risk for behavioral issues.

“And the more likely they are to develop asthma and infections in childhood, and to go on to develop cardiovascular disease, diabetes, substance dependence, and depression in adulthood,” she said.

She’s looking to health advocates on the ground for other ideas on how to reduce chronic disease rates, especially in low-income communities and communities of color.

At the Fruit Ridge Community Collaborative Tuesday, the surgeon general met with health workers and neighborhood residents.

“We know there are families coming to us that are already experiencing trauma,” said Kim Williams with Building Healthy Communities, a nonprofit focused on combatting health disaprities. “Having her come to us with this as her focus ... it’s the same work we’re doing on the ground with the families that come through this building every day. So it’s really exciting.”

In his first budget proposal, Newsom suggested allocating $45 million for screenings to identify ACEs among children and adults on Medi-Cal. Burke Harris says investing in home visiting programs is also a crucial step.

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