Mentoring Presents a Real Opportunity in Addressing Childhood Trauma

Los Angeles Friend Marquis spending one-on-one time at the playground with his youths. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Children-Los Angeles

In the late 1990s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente published a landmark study showing that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have a long-lasting negative impact on a person’s overall health and well-being as they enter adulthood.

Earlier this month, the CDC released another groundbreaking report looking at the impact of ACEs on the national level. The research showed that a stunning one in six adults has experienced four or more types of ACEs.

The latest report also emphasized the importance of relationships with caring adults and named the practice of mentoring and positive parenting supports as approaches that prevent and mitigate childhood trauma. As a national mentoring organization that has been serving children facing the greatest obstacles for 25 years, Friends of the Children was encouraged — and not surprised — to see the practice of mentoring highlighted.

Our long-term professional mentoring model was founded on research showing that the single most important factor in overcoming adversity is a long-term, nurturing relationship with a consistent, caring adult. Bonds with children and families who have experienced complex trauma often take years to create. This is why Friends of the Children spends, on average, three to four hours a week with each youth one-on-one in the classroom, at home and in the community. We commit to every child we serve from as early as age 4 through 18.

We hire salaried, professional mentors whose full-time job is to empower and support youth and caregivers. Our mentors go through intensive training both up front and ongoing, staying on top of the latest practices that are proven to mitigate trauma and build resilience.

Friends Mentoring

Bay Area Friend Tanya with one of her youths. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Children-Bay Area

We were also encouraged by the emphasis on supporting children and their families together. We have seen that the presence of a “Friend” in our children’s lives has a ripple effect on their parents, caregivers, siblings and communities. Independent research funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation recently validated this and early results from our randomized controlled trial support this as well.

It has taken many more years, but there is finally a steady drumbeat from health care providers, to engage other sectors, policymakers and stakeholders to learn how to recognize ACEs and take a trauma-informed approach to supporting children and families impacted by ACEs. This year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) approved a budget that sets aside $95 million to improve rates for ACE screenings, with an additional $50 million to support training for providers conducting ACEs screens.

Seeking out strategies for preventing families from becoming involved in the child welfare system, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health recently awarded Friends-L.A. a grant to support families in the Antelope Valley. In San Francisco, we partner with the San Francisco Unified School District to serve children in the city’s most underserved communities – Bayview Hunters Point, Potrero Hill and Visitacion Valley.

We have come to appreciate just how incredible it is when children and families overcome traumatic experiences, break harmful cycles and build resilience in the face of great obstacles. They are the true heroes of their own stories. Those experiences do not define them.

The CDC report was a clear call to action. The public, private and nonprofit sectors have to come to the table and offer up long-term, data-driven and trauma-informed solutions for both children and their families.


Thomas Lee is the executive director of Friends of the Children-Los Angeles and Michael Rugen is the executive director of Friends of the Children-San Francisco Bay Area.  

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