Confronting Adverse Childhood Experiences to Improve Rural Kids’ Lifelong Health

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Montana ranks 5th in the nation for the percentage of population living in a rural area (44.1%), eclipsed only by Mississippi, West Virginia, Vermont, and Maine. And as you may know, Montana is the 4th largest state in the nation! There are so many great things about being such a rural state — the charm of small towns, the beauty of farms and ranches, the wide-open spaces, our majestic mountains, rivers, streams, and creeks; and of course, let’s not forget the higher-than-average childhood adversity. What?

That’s right. In a recent study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, findings show that children living in rural areas have higher ACE scores (Adverse Childhood Experiences). You can read a first-hand take on this problem by Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Adrienne Coopey by clicking here.

Yes, Montana is a wonderful place to raise kiddos. But underneath the beauty and wonderment of this state, we must pay attention to the health and well-being of our children, youth, and families. ChildWise Institute presents and trains people all over Montana on the neuroscience of ACEs, toxic stress, and resilience; and our experience supports this report. We know this by collecting and aggregating ACE scores of the adults we train, and the comments we hear – especially in the rural areas of Montana.

Together, we truly can elevate the well-being and future of Montana’s children, youth, families, and communities. Get involved! Join the movement!

PBS Documentary on Native American Tribal Justice and Families Debuts Monday August 21

ChildWise Institute works with all of the Amercian Indian Tribes in Montana to some extent and hopes to develop these relationships into friendships that are full, rich, and deep. Justice is often something that has been deprived of our nation’s Native Americans for a very, very long time – and is still lacking.

A new PBS Documentary on POV titled Tribal Justice that spotlights tribal courts that incorporate indigenous customs and beliefs into their justice systems and the families that are affected. The documentary, directed by Anne Makepeace, follows Abby Abinanti and Claudette White, chief judges in two of the more than 300 tribal courts across the country, as they navigate cross-jurisdictional issues in their courts and communities.

Tribal Justice has its national broadcast premiere on the PBS documentary series POV (Point of View) on Monday, August 21, 2017. POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series, now in its 30th season.

You can read more about it here. I hope you will tune in for this documentary… I know we will!

Outside Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theater at the premiere of ‘Tribal Justice.’ Front row: Judge Claudette White, director Anne Makepeace, Judge Abby Abinanti. Back row: Claudette’s sister Dorena, Claudette’s son Zion, Claudette’s sister Mary.

Class of 2017 hopes to spark change with donation for suicide awareness

The team at ChildWise Institute is so proud of these amazing young men and women!

Every corner of the State of Montana has been affected by suicide. These high school seniors are making a difference in their own community and serve as an inspiring example for all of us. We wanted to shine a light on them, and hope you will do the same. Please click on the photo to read the entire article.

SP_N1Toole County Health Nurse Kristi Aklestad, left, graciously accepts a check from Class of 2017 members, Andrew Johnson, Grace Aklestad and Colt Pederson last week at the courthouse. The class chose to donate what was left in their class account to suicide awareness and prevention after losing two classmates prior to their graduation in May.

Photo by Jennifer Van Heel

Teaming Up to Help Traumatized Children

Intermountain and Bigfork school district collaborate on new day-treatment program for students on school campus!

For many years, Intermountain, the founding organization of ChildWise Institute, has been making tremendous strides in the Helena area schools with in-school services for kiddos that have experienced stress and trauma in their lives. But it’s not about Intermountain, it’s about how these kiddos are becoming more successful in school and realizing higher levels of hope for their futures!

And now, Intermountain is doing the same thing for Bigfork schools. Thanks to a visionary and caring school Superintendent, Matt Jensen, Intermountain will provide therapeutic support for the kids and their families! This is an unusual opportunity and approach, but one that Intermountain believes works. and they should know. Intermountain has done this successfully for many years in the greater Helena area.

“It’s hard for us to have a kid in our system that we’re working with blood, sweat, and tears, and just pouring everything we can into this kid, and then send them away to a program outside of town,” Jensen said. “It’s good for them — God bless them when they go — but we’re totally invested with the child and the family. This model where we can have them in our schools — the program is great.”



ChildWise Institute was recently highlighted on the website SHD Prevention for our work in the business sector as it relates to Adverse Childhood Experiences! Understanding ACEs, and changing & enhancing some business practices can have a  very positive effect on a business’s bottom line – called the Return On Investment (ROI). Using a company’s Employee Assitance Program, employees are able to address ACEs in their own lives and the lives of their children, which ultimately can result in healthier, happier employees – which can result in an increased ROI! But there’s more to it than that! Read the article here.

Suicide Prevention Bill Includes ACEs!

“These types of demographics and statistics are unacceptable.”

That’s what Senator Windy Boy, sponsor of Montana Legislative House Bill 118, said in regards to suicide rates in Montana. 

“We’re ranked among the highest in suicide nationwide,” said Windy Boy. “Indian Country is ranked the highest in Montana.” He continued, “This is the first step in reducing that,” adding that he wants to thank the governor and the Legislature for their support in “making sure this was a priority in this session.”

The major contribution to this Bill to include the science of toxic stress, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study and resilience came from Representative Jessica Karjala. Karjala had worked tirelessly on a Bill specific to ACEs and resilience, which included a pilot project, but it was tabled in hearing. The staff at ChildWise Institute worked closely with Karjala and were also very disappointed that the Committee did not fully grasp the importance of advancing awareness and actions throughout Montana based on what we know about ACEs, toxic stress, and resilience. While having ACEs included in Bill 118 is a good thing, it is only the beginning of what needs to be addressed in Montana to elevate the well-being of its children, youth, families, and communities. Suicide is, of course, only one of many serious negative health or social outcomes of childhood adversity according to the data of the ACE Study. We have a lot of work to do, still.

Stay tuned for the next Montana Legislative session in 2019! We’ve already started the work!

How Dirty is Too Dirty?

How Dirty is Too Dirty?

By Daniel Champer, LCPC, Intermountain Clinical Manager of School Based Services

A quick internet search of the phrase “mushroom cloud” reveals that the technical definition of the phenomena is “a distinctive pyro-cumulus mushroom-shaped cloud of debris and usually condensed water vapor resulting from a large explosion.” The phrase will also conjure up frightening descriptions related to 1950’s nuclear trials and WWII documentaries. The aforementioned imagery is pretty universal. Yet, for anybody who has interacted with an adolescent using any of their five senses, I believe that my definition is much more appropriate. I believe that a mushroom cloud is actually the phenomena created when unwashed bodies, raging hormones, and bad attitudes interact with copious amounts of body spray or perfume.

Most teenagers smell. And for those that don’t, it’s probably a safe bet that their dens, I mean bedrooms, do. The perfume industry generates about 30 billion dollars yearly on a global scale.  Why?  Because most teenagers smell. So, the real question becomes:  How smelly is too smelly? How messy is too messy? How pimply is too pimply? And then, what in the name of Mr. Clean do I do about it?

The Merriam-Webster definition of hygiene is as follows: “The conditions or practices (as of cleanliness) conducive to health.” Hygiene is an integral part of health for all individuals. It is especially important for adolescents and young adults as it is directly related to physical health, mental health, and social health. We often think of poor hygiene as a condition in and of itself, yet the reality is that poor hygiene is often one of the earliest signs that something isn’t quite right in the life of a youth.

While it may be a slight over-exaggeration to state that all teenagers are gross, hygiene does tend to deteriorate during this development stage. Developmental factors such as limit testing and individuation mesh poorly with increased body hair, hyperactive sweat glands, and several gender-specific physical developments. Poor impulse control and underdeveloped judgment directly correlates to eight dirty glasses on a nightstand and a pile of dirty laundry a grizzly bear could hibernate under. So, if these teenage tendencies are somewhat normal, then how do we know when that young person in our life is just “too dirty?” Trust your senses.

Use your sense of sight. Observe your teenager in a variety of settings. Evaluate if your child’s hygiene is similar to that of other same-age peers. Make sure to notice if hygiene habits change for the worse. Note instances in which your teenager takes a personal inventory of his or her hygiene, (every kid gets caught smelling their armpits at some point, and that’s actually a good thing).

Use your sense of smell. This one isn’t too hard. All teenagers will have an off day, but make sure to notice if a young person consistently presents as malodorous. Also, check in with other trusted adults to see if they share a similar experience. Use your sense of hearing. Pay attention to what the young people in your life say. Do they talk negatively about themselves? Do they express a desire to be closer to same age peers in both socially and romantic ways but just can’t seem to do so? Does the shower turn on regularly? Adolescents tend to experience shame and embarrassment in relation to hygiene. Listen to see if the teen in your life expresses an interest in keeping themselves clean and presenting themselves as attractive.Use your sense of touch. Check for consistently unwashed and oily skin. On second thought, it’s probably better to use your sense of sight for this one. Evaluate an adolescent’s need and desire for physical closeness. Poor hygiene can often be a sign that something else may not be right in the life of an adolescent. This shift is also often accompanied by an attempt to isolate and withdraw from relationships and individuals with whom they were previously close.

Use your sense of taste. Actually, never mind. Don’t do that.  That’s just gross.

What do you do if your teen’s dirty is too dirty? Check in with them. Have a conversation around hygiene and health in general. Discuss the need and the process for achieving good hygiene. Normalize the difficulties that teens face in keeping their bodies clean. Make sure to ask the hard questions about suicide and drug use. Check in about their mental health. Ask questions about their social health. Also, be sure to talk with other trusted adults, such as teachers and coaches who regularly interact with your child. If you think there may be something else going on, make sure to seek professional medical or mental health treatment.

If we as adults use personal hygiene to help determine the mental and physical health of the young people of our community, then someday we can transition from using adjectives such as messy, smelly, and dirty to healthy, happy, and wise.

Daniel Champer is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who currently serves as the clinical manager of School Based Services for Intermountain in Helena.  Daniel provides clinical leadership and oversight to teams of mental health professionals who provide therapeutic services in public school settings in the Helena area.

Montana making a little headway to address ACEs in adults!

Recently, ChildWise Institute had worked hard with bi-partisan legislative leaders on a Bill to promote a pilot project based on the science of ACEs, toxic stress, and resilience. Unfortunately, it was tabled (read: failed).

ChildWise has been working with legislators for 6 years now (3 legislative sessions) that have wanted to use ACEs as a public policy issue and a legislative Bill. Those efforts have been unsuccessful so far. It’s something every state needs to accomplish — but I think there’s a problem. From my experience, I have yet to see anything ACEs that could be effective, appropriate legislation. Back in 2013, I was invited to meet with a legislator and another person with whom I work occasionally (Erin Butts). Representative Dunwell had attended a 40-minute ACEs presentation I did at the Capitol for legislators while the 2013 Session was in. I had about 25 people in the room, Rep. Dunwell was one of them, and so was Representative Karjala. ACEs hit both of them square in the face, as it does most folks. Rep. Dunwell was hot to create a Bill based on ACEs. Erin and I were asking her what she wanted to do/accomplish with this Bill, and Erin said something that I repeat often and agree with completely – “ACEs is about compassion, how do you legislate compassion?” Nevertheless, a Bill was crafted and presented at the 2013 Committee Hearing. I even worked with Dr. Rob Anda, who was kind enough to write and sign a personal letter asking the legislators to give serious consideration to passing that Bill. The, I had a copy of that letter delivered to the desk of every legislator while they were on the floor during the session.

This is the struggle I see in many states that are trying to make legislation out of ACEs. To me, ACEs can and should change policy in agencies and organizations, such as the Dept. of Human Services and Office of Public Instruction. But I don’t think it can be public policy necessarily. In this 2017 legislative session, Representative Karjala worked with ChildWise and others to get another ACEs-based Bill passed, and as I mentioned at the top of this article, it failed. Not because Rep. Karjala lacked passion or determination, but (in my opinion) you can’t legislate compassion. There certainly other reasons the Hearing Committee did not pass the Bill, such as no specific measurable outcomes, but it doesn’t mean the last six years of pressing the science of ACEs forward with legislators isn’t getting any traction.

Here’s a really great step forward, as seen in today’s local newspaper!

Governor signs bills addressing criminal justice costs

Gov. Steve Bullock has signed a package of bills that seek to reduce costs for the state public defender’s office and help reduce recidivism. One bill calls for the Office of Public Defender to establish a pilot project in up to four regions that would put clients in touch with social workers and other services that might help address the reasons they got in trouble with the law.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are already trying the “holistic defense” pilot project and say it has cut recidivism in half among chronic offenders who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. Social workers help offenders obtain driver’s licenses, jobs, housing and medical care.


Reducing recidivism would reduce caseloads for the public defender’s office, which has seen a 30 percent increase in caseloads since 2012. Public defenders have said they didn’t always feel like they are providing adequate representation to their clients.

Failed by Montana’s foster care, man succeeds despite long odds

Our own Bord Member, Schylar Baber highlighted in the Bozeman newspaper!

We are proud to have a man like Schylar on the Board of ChildWise Institute.
Is it because he is a very intelligent man? YES!
Is it because he has a passion to elevate the well-being and futures of our children? YES!
But also because Schylar has a unique point of view that he brings to the table. Read about it below and click on the headline!

Failed by Montana’s foster care, man succeeds despite long odds

Schylar Canfield Baber remembers everything about the moment he was taken away from his family.

Business Leaders in the ACE and Resilience Movement: A Different Kind of Bottom Line

ChildWise Institute is one of fourteen organizations in the nation to have received a two-year grant from the Health Federation of Philadelphia (with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) to advance awareness of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, and to accelerate trauma-informed actions with a purpose of becoming resilient-building communities all across Montana. This cohort of fourteen organizations is part of the Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities (MARC). We launched an initiative called Elevate Montana in 2013 in hopes of it becoming a message that would resonate and spread throughout the state… and it is gaining more and more traction every day!

One of the areas we are focusing on is growing a network of for-profit businesses that want to become ACE-aware and trauma-informed in the process of creating a resilient-building work environment. We are not alone in this effort! As you’ll see in this article, which is gaining national attention, there are other members of our MARC cohort engaging businesses in their communities. Together, we will all learn from each other to help create a movement in the business sector all across the nation! Imagine businesses everywhere that have increased their productivity, reduced absenteeism, enhanced the health of their employees, and increased their Return On Investment (ROI) — all because they understand the importance of how childhood adversity can affect us as adults, and became change-makers in their own workplace by supporting their employees in ways that increase their other ROI — Return On Impact!

Thanks to the Health Federation of Philadelphia andRobertt Wood Johnson Foundation for being leaders of positive change in our nation!