Overcoming ACEs and Childhood Trauma with Dr. Sue Skinner
Sue Skinner, MD, joined Children’s Center in 2010 as Examiner Supervisor. She has been working in the field of child abuse and neglect for more than 20 years. Board certified in both general pediatrics and child abuse pediatrics, Dr. Skinner is also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the Oregon Pediatric Society. Dr. Skinner has lectured both locally and nationally on various issues related to child abuse, and has assisted in the development of guidelines and training modules for the state of Oregon.
On April 12th, in observance of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Children’s Center will host an invitation-only panel discussion “Overcoming ACEs” in the afternoon, and our second annual “Children’s Center Honors” in the evening. The afternoon panel will address the immediate and long-term health impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). As the featured panelist, Nadine Burke Harris, MD, joins several Oregon health care and human service leaders, including Dr. Skinner, for the discussion.
Earlier this week, we sat down with Dr. Skinner for a brief interview to discuss the importance of this community panel and determine why the topic of childhood trauma will be equally pertinent 20 years from now.
Children’s Center (CC): Can you describe why you became interested in the field of child abuse prevention and intervention?
Sue Skinner (SS): I got into the field of pediatrics very intentionally. I always knew I wanted to work with children, so the field of pediatrics was a no-brainer. However, the field of child abuse and neglect was somewhat accidental. There was a need at the time for additional intervention and assessment services, and the local child abuse intervention center asked me if I would work in the clinic one day a week. I agreed, and over time I found that I enjoyed this work more than general pediatrics. I stopped practicing general pediatrics about 15 years ago and have only worked in the field of child abuse and neglect since.
CC: What motivates you to continue this work?
SS: Children motivate me to continue doing this work. They are joyful and resilient! I am very fortunate to be able to work with children, and those who care for children, on a daily basis. It is a great responsibility but also a great privilege to be able to work with children and families during difficult times.
CC: Do you have a “go-to” question that quickly builds rapport with kids you’re examining?
SS: Asking kids if they have any pets is usually the best ice-breaker. Children are kind and have big hearts, even the toughest-appearing child usually shines when talking about his or her pet!
CC: What was the most memorable response?
SS: Talking about pet goats or a hedgehog. I had lots of questions about both and didn’t want to stop!
CC: Why is it important for communities to invest in child abuse intervention?
SS: I don’t mean to sound trite, but children are truly our future. They’re the future of our families, our country, and our planet. The reality is: bad things happen to children. It is important for communities to acknowledge that abuse happens. Without intervention, abuse continues, potentially into the next generation. It is critical that we intervene in order to stop the cycle and provide the best support.
CC: How is Oregon in a unique position to address child maltreatment? What makes Children’s Center’s approach unique?
SS: Our legislature recognized many years ago the value of a comprehensive medical evaluation for children where there are concerns of abuse or neglect. Children’s Center makes an effort to provide a full evaluation to all children; a complete medical exam, lab testing if needed, and a digitally recorded forensic interview, to best evaluate a child’s health and well-being.
We fully recognize that the system works best if we all work together. Children’s Center works very closely with other professionals in Clackamas County to support children and families. This includes child protection, law enforcement, therapists, other medical providers, schools and public health officials.
CC: How can we as responsible adults become partners in preventing traumatic childhood experiences and promote healthy child development?
SS: I am reminded of the quote by Max Lucado, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” So, when you ask, how we can be responsible adults and partners in the fight against child abuse and neglect? I would say “do something.” We all have different skill sets and different comfort levels. Start by educating yourself, pay attention, stand up for what is right, call out what is wrong, and just simply, “be there,” in the life of a child.
CC: This year brings the second annual “Children’s Center Honors” on April 12th – featuring a round table discussion with Oregon health industry leaders, Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris, MD, and yourself on a panel discussing the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Why should we be paying more attention to this issue?
SS: This issue is no longer a question or a theory. We know through a wealth of medical literature that adverse childhood experiences matter. ACEs affect not only the immediate health and well-being of children, but the health and well-being of those children as adults. Physical and emotional health matters, and if there is anything we can do to identify adversity in childhood, address it, and change or eliminate it, we have the potential to change the trajectory and life of that individual as an adult.
CC: Why is this roundtable panel important?
SS: This discussion always matters. It would’ve mattered 20 years ago when the research was first done, and it will still be relevant 20 years from now. We are at a critical point in our society where we are realizing complex problems (e.g. medical, social, emotional, and financial) require teamwork and collaboration. I believe, as a community, we are ready to take on this challenge and figure out how to best work together to move forward and impact not only individuals but society.
CC: What impact do you hope the talk will have?
SS: Awareness, communication, and partnerships. We have to all be aware of the degree of the problems facing so many children and families. We have to avoid trying to tackle difficult problems alone, but rather communicate and partner with youth-serving organizations to move forward and make a difference.
CC: What are you most looking forward to this year?
SS: Personally – travel, family time, weddings and graduations, time at the Oregon Coast, and camping. Professionally – ongoing work with outstanding partners in our county, as we continue this difficult, but extremely rewarding work together.