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Empower Action: Working to reverse the effects of traumatic events in children

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The success of the state of South Carolina largely depends on the emotional, mental and physical strength of its children. Major challenges face our state’s children, including adverse childhood experiences. This occurs when children have been exposed to, or have experienced, violence, abuse or neglect in the home. These experiences can be traumatic well into adulthood. However, there is now a model to both combat them and build resiliency in children who are exposed to them.

The BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation, along with the Children’s Trust of South Carolina, has developed this first-of-its-kind integrated planning model. It is called the Empower Action Framework. Oconee, Marlboro and Richland counties are currently implementing the Empower Action model. Funding for this initiative is through the Foundation and the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention funds. Each of these communities has several tasks. First, they must identify where there are strengths for overcoming adverse childhood experiences in children. Then, they can seek opportunities for growing what’s working to combat the issue. Finally, they can create a plan to make community wide changes so that each county can be a better place to raise a child and be a child.

Bree Bess, program officer with the Foundation, traveled to Oconee County to gain an understanding of how Oconee officials are putting their plan to work. The group is also known as the Core Team.

“It was incredible to see leaders who are familiar with every inch of their county empowered to come together to create change,” Bess said. “It’s exciting to know that what they’re putting together will benefit Oconee families now and for years to come.”

The Core Team leads a broader coalition. That group includes community members and organizational leaders who care about children and families. Empower Oconee was established as part of ongoing efforts to promote child well-being. Members of the Empower Oconee team have two main goals. They want to create a plan to prevent child maltreatment. They also want to build protective factors through all levels of their community. Protective factors can make a parent, child or family more likely to thrive and less likely to experience a negative outcome in the face of adversity. They also ease the effects adverse childhood experiences have on a child's life and health.

At the Oconee Core Team meeting, members made plans for the next full coalition meeting. They also determined the best way to begin the planning process for their plan of action. The coalition will use a guide created specifically to lead communities and organizations through the process of creating a plan called Ready, Set, Go. Ready, Set, Go is a tool used along with the Empower Action Model to turn data into action. It was created by Children's Trust of South Carolina.

“This work was born out of a desire to see progress in the large, and what sometimes seems insurmountable, issue of preventing and reducing adverse childhood experiences,” said Bess. “I’m confident that this work will prove successful and something we can implement throughout communities in South Carolina.”

These community-based action plans will aim to increase children's resiliency to any traumatic experiences they may have. The implementation of the Empower Action Model continues to put South Carolina at the forefront of advanced childhood experiences research and prevention, and ultimately improves child, family and community outcomes.