Imagine for a moment that you’ve broken your leg, a painful experience that demands immediate attention. You wouldn’t think twice about seeking medical assistance. Now, let’s shift this analogy to the context of childhood adversity. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress have serious negative effects that often go unnoticed. Just as a fractured leg demands swift treatment, ACEs and toxic stress also require urgent intervention.
While the signs of childhood adversity are often less apparent than a broken leg, and the pain they cause less visible, the consequences of ignoring ACEs and toxic stress are far-reaching. Unchecked ACEs and toxic stress not only detrimentally impact the future physical, mental, and emotional well-being of children, but they also impose a substantial economic toll on society, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.
ACEs encompass a wide range of traumatic events, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, household dysfunction (such as parental substance abuse, mental illness, or domestic violence), physical and emotional neglect, and other forms of trauma. These experiences are distressing and have long-lasting effects.
When children are exposed to ACEs, especially over an extended period, their bodies and brains go into a state of chronic stress activation. This is known as toxic stress. It involves elevated levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which disrupt normal brain development and affect various aspects of physical and mental health.
In the same way that a broken leg left untreated can lead to a lifetime of pain and discomfort, unaddressed ACEs and toxic stress give rise to a myriad of physical and mental health issues. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, from addiction and other mental illnesses to heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. They also negatively influence education and job opportunities and have detrimental intergenerational implications.
This is where something called the Brain Story comes in. Utilizing research out of Harvard University, the Brain Story initiative was developed by the Palix Foundation and is part of the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. The Brain Story narrative explains how childhood trauma and adversity negatively impact brain development and lifelong health. Articulating the intergenerational cycle of adversity within families, the Brain Story explains how we can use scientific understanding to improve outcomes for children and adults in the future.
Children’s Cottage Society is forging the way with the Growing Minds Project: a new three-story, 35,000 sq. ft. Crisis Nursery & Family Support Centre in Northwest Calgary. Highlighting the critical role of nurturing relationships and a supportive environment, the new centre is the first of its kind in Calgary. Opening in early 2024, Brain Story science is woven throughout the centre’s design and is embedded into every facet of the programs within.
With parents managing mental health issues for themselves and their children, long wait times to access supports for their children’s developmental concerns, and difficulties navigating a stressful and complex system, they have a lot to deal with. The new centre will feature six concurrent areas of service and support, all under one roof, including: Crisis Respite, Child Development, Parent Learning, Mental Wellness, Cultural Support, and Family Resilience.
Additionally, the centre will house the Calgary West Family Resource Network and serve as an innovative partner hub, creating a new way of providing programming to families in need. This collaboration of services will ensure that every family can quickly and effectively access the supports they need. Children’s Cottage Society is excited to collaborate with CUPS, Families Matter, and Calgary Counselling Centre, along with Miskanawah, an Indigenous multi-service organization that offers programs for children, youth, families, and community.
Since its inception in 1986, Children’s Cottage Society has grown into an organization that not only strives to prevent childhood trauma and neglect, but one that employs world-leading, science-informed, and evidence-based approaches to help increase resilience, build capacity, and create better outcomes for children and families.
Calgary families are facing many challenges, including a shortage of affordable housing and the ever-increasing cost of living. Nevertheless, the resilience and compassion of our community shine brightly. Through the generosity and support of incredible donors—many of whom are in the oil & gas industry—Children’s Cottage Society has reached 75% of its $25.5M fundraising goal to build the new Crisis Nursery & Family Support Centre.
Having helped over 73,000 children and families in crisis, Children’s Cottage Society’s groundbreaking new centre will offer hope and support to thousands more vulnerable children and families for years to come. An expanded Crisis Nursery has a 40% greater capacity to provide care for children when their family is in distress—the only service of its kind in Calgary. Additionally, the new building will be the location of Calgary’s first-ever Hope’s Cradle, a safe infant surrender site for desperate parents.
Just as a broken bone is set to ensure it heals correctly, we must address toxic stress, reduce ACEs, and increase resilience to promote children’s future health and wellbeing. The new Crisis Nursery & Family Support Centre serves as a vital part of this process, offering children the tools they need to heal and overcome adversity, preventing future “fractures” in their lives, and enabling them to lead healthier, happier, and more productive lives.
As we extend the warmth of our new centre to welcome a multitude of families in crisis, your generosity is instrumental in helping us reach our $6M fundraising goal, providing a beacon of hope to Calgary children and families for decades to come!