“I am a woman on a mission,” Dr. Nadine Burke Harris told a packed Campbell Hall at UCSB on Monday night — the talk so well attended that it started 15 minutes late and was video streamed to three adjacent classrooms — “and that mission is to get every pediatrician in America to screen for adverse childhood experiences.”
In the arena of pediatric medicine, Burke Harris, founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness and author of The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, is best described as a force of nature. A tall, striking woman, she spoke passionately about her work in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco, a place where the leading cause of death is violence, and how she began to notice patterns in her young patients that prompted her to dig deeper, to look beyond symptoms for the underlying biological mechanisms of health issues. A self-described “science nerd,” Burke Harris connected the dots linking toxic stress in childhood with a host of chronic health problems in adulthood.
Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are not solely a problem for poor neighborhoods or people of color or residents of flyover states; they are prevalent in affluent communities as well, constituting an actual public health crisis. Burke Harris is determined to mitigate the damaging effects of ACEs everywhere they are found. I wouldn’t bet against her.