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AU News

Helping Others Understand Children’s Traumatic Experiences

April 1, 2022
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Instructor shares knowledge about ACEs at Empower Oconee’s March Coalition Meeting March 10, 2022.

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Not all childhood memories are happy ones. Monica Morehead of the Anderson University College of Health Professions works hard to be part of a solution that provides hope in seemingly hopeless circumstances.

Studies have shown that adverse childhood experiences that happened to a child before the age of 18 can change brain chemistry, especially if those stressors become toxic and no intervention takes place. Without intervention, children can go through life psychologically scarred and prone to chronic health conditions or death up to 20 years earlier through maladaptive behaviors. 

“Teaching about ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) empowers us to change the conversation from ‘What’s wrong with you?’ to ‘What happened to you?’ for all individuals, opening doors for healing,” said Morehead, a clinical nursing instructor.

Morehead shared her knowledge about ACEs as the featured speaker for Empower Oconee’s March Coalition Meeting March 10. Her presentation was titled “ACEs and Community Assessment.” 

Empower Oconee is an initiative of the United Way of Oconee County focused on supporting children and families so they are strong and can live to their full potential. Empower Oconee received grants from the Children’s Trust of South Carolina to do pilot programs to strengthen children, families and communities. Oconee County was among three counties to receive the Children’s Trust funding.

Morehead connected with Empower Oconee through a friend of hers who established Heath’s Haven, a program that helps people with the basic tools needed for healthy relationships.  

Morehead said, “What Children’s Trust does is not only prevent child abuse but to prevent all kinds of abuse, whether it’s emotional, physical, sexual or neglect and help families who maybe the parents had those adverse experiences to recognize ‘hey, you had a rough time, let’s give you some new skills so that you can offer your children a better chance than what someone offered you.’ It’s not laying blame on anybody, it’s just saying ‘we recognize where you are and we want to help you do better.’”

According to Morehead, Empower Oconee started in 2019-2020. In the early days of its existence, the community was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic. If that wasn’t enough, a devastating EF-3 tornado hit the Seneca area, destroying homes and traumatizing residents. 

Empower Oconee lovingly reached out to the community. Among the ways they did this was to organize a baby shower drive where people donated items normally given in a baby shower—all for new moms to pick up and use. Students from the Anderson University School of Nursing gave out packets from Empower Oconee, loaded with ideas about games and activities things families could do together. 

Morehead has a passion for the wellbeing of children and others caught up in adversity.

“As a nurse, I’m very interested in anything mental health related because I’m a psychiatric nurse,” she said. “Just understanding how trauma affects people over the lifespan was of great interest to me, so I picked up interest in this officially in 2019; That’s when I became an ACE Master Trainer so I can do these one-to-three hour lectures on the importance of ACEs and understanding what your ACE score is and what does that mean. It’s not destiny, but it definitely says ‘we may have some things we need to address to help you be better.’”

“The work Monica is doing with the ACEs teaching is wonderful,” said Cynthia Cross, program chair for undergraduate nursing in the College of Health Professions. “We are incorporating it into our Mental Health Nursing course here at AU. We have seen positive effects on our students in the clinical setting as they are able to pick up on these traumatic events that have happened to their patients. In turn, allowing them to care for their patient in a better way by being sensitive to their needs.”

Morehead came to Anderson University in 2017 with a background in psychiatric nursing, school nursing and cardiac nursing. 

She has been a mental health advocate and served as a volunteer mental health/child & adolescent advocate with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for more than 20 years, educating and supporting primarily families with children. In 2021 she assumed the role of lead faculty for Community Health Nursing, combining all of her passions for mental health and community health nursing. 

She serves as a Board Member for NAMI-AOP, Anderson Lights of Hope, Alpha Alpha Pi chapter of Sigma International, and is Advisory Member of Anderson Institute of Technology. She is a member of Alpha Alpha Pi and Phi Pi of Sigma International and the National Society of Leadership and Success. 

Morehead received her BSN from Chamberlain College of Nursing in 2017 and her MSN from Western Governors University in 2020.

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