Hundreds of local residents gathered Friday for a child trauma and abuse conference at UT Tyler’s Soules College of Business.
The conference, which has been planned since 2019, is the result of a research study from faculty and staff at the university to prevent adverse childhood experiences that could lead to future problems after a child’s early life.
Educators, healthcare professionals, parents and policy makers were among the people that attended the conference in order to get a perspective of how to address ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences).
The event was organized by a lot of different community partners including nonprofit organizations, businesses and local higher education institutions.
The conference was divided into five different task forces that were discussed throughout the day, including awareness, screening, prevention, treatment and recovery.
One of the reasons why the conference was so important for organizers is because it addressed topics that could lead to suicide.
Factors like stress, which is caused by schools, churches and community organizations being stretched to the limit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, have propelled suicide rates to new heights nationwide.
Smith County and Tyler have the highest rate of suicides of any county in the state, according to a statement from the conference organizers.
Dr. Harrison Ndetan, professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at UT Health Science Center, said the conference was needed to raise awareness and help people understand the source of child abuse and mental health problems.
“During our research we discovered mental health issues, which are high in our community, come from emotional dysregulation,” Ndetan said. “It is important for us to raise awareness so we can start addressing things that have happened to our children because the issues that happen to you as a child affect your mental health in your transition to adulthood.”
Ndetan said these types of events are important to the community as it is an opportunity for them to listen to people’s problems and find solutions or ways to address them.
Physical, mental and sexual abuse are some the leading cause of mental health problems and trauma. Others like leaving a child under lack of supervision, exposure to safety problems and parental problems like divorces or incarcerations are among others.
Brandon Davidson, executive director at Next Step Community Solutions, said six out of 10 people experience house problems before turning 18. Out of the six, at least four suffer adverse childhood experiences, which make an individual 13 times more likely to die by suicide or to develop long term illnesses that might have a strong impact on both physical and mental health.
Mickey Slimp, team leader for the East Texas ACE’s task force, said the research study found many solutions to avoid mental health problems.
“The best thing is to have adults in your life who care for you and who are willing to step out and intervene with you as an individual,” Slimp said.
Slimp said one of the long term goals of the conference was to help the development of other research studies that they plan to start soon.
Some of the studies include research about the economic impact of adverse childhood experiences in Smith County.
The research study would focus on how the community is economically affected by incarcerations and loss of income people have when they don’t attend college or finish high school.
Slimp encouraged residents to be on the lookout for information about future projects, as the board is currently working on raising funds.