ACE Awareness Foundation an effort to help parents, caregivers limit or prevent a child’s chronic exposure to trauma
“As the public defender, I see daily the consequences of adverse childhood experiences in the lives of the thousands of children bumping up against juvenile court,” said Stephen Bush, Shelby County Public Defender.
“In fact, 93% of youth in detention have survived repeated trauma. This strong correlation between trauma and contact with juvenile court is undeniable and something that we, as parents and as community, cannot afford to ignore.”
Bush has served on the ACEs Task Force since it was founded in 2014. The task force launched the ACE Awareness Foundation. Since then, the foundation has created two Universal Parenting Places (UPPs) which provide any parent who walks through their doors with counseling and information involving family-related issues or concerns. In July, ACEs also opened the “Warm Line” — a free, live telephone line that connects parents with trained professionals who provide parenting guidance and support.
“We’ve known for many years about the link between early childhood traumas and future justice system involvement,” said Bush. “What is becoming increasingly clear, though, is that toxic stress experienced during childhood is crippling to a child in ways far beyond problems at school or an encounter with the justice system.”
For his first public outreach as ACE Awareness Foundation board chair, Bush appeared on the Commercial Appeal’s ‘Talk, Memphis’ podcast hosted by journalist David Waters.
“It’s about fundamental fairness. Which is really what our work at the public defender’s office is about. We are appointed to represent individuals that can’t afford counsel, because I believe everyone deserves a fair shake. The Constitution requires it,” said Bush on the podcast. “But if you take that same idea, certainly every kid born in this community should have a fair shake and a healthy life – to live a healthy and whole life.”
“I can tell you, if we get this right about reducing and preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences, we can begin to talk about reducing the size of our criminal justice system, right-sizing our juvenile justice system and the savings that could come from that could very well fund anything we need to do in public education.”
You can listen to the entire podcast here.
Learn more about the work the ACE Awareness Foundation is doing to increase knowledge among policy makers, state and local leaders and citizens about the effects and causes of toxic stress in this piece that aired in April of 2016 on PBS Newshour. You can watch the entire segment here.
Veronica Coleman-Davis retires from Juvenile Defender Unit
It was 1975 when she first came to the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office, Veronica Coleman-Davis had just graduated from the Memphis State University School of Law (now the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law). After a short stint as a part-time attorney, Coleman-Davis was hired full-time, making her the first female assistant public defender in Shelby County. This month, the former U.S. Attorney will bring to a close four decades of distinguished service right back where she started — at the public defender’s office, but this time, in juvenile defense.
“It was humbling that Veronica Coleman-Davis, a former U.S. Attorney and pioneering female attorney in Memphis and across the state, chose to come back to public defense,” said Chief Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush. “Not only did she want to come back to our office, she wanted the challenge of advocating for children caught in the criminal justice system. It was an honor that such a notable figure in our legal community lent her wisdom and service to the formation of the Juvenile Defender Unit.”
It should come as no surprise that Coleman-Davis chose to take part in such a difficult endeavor. After all, she’s spent a lifetime breaking new ground in Tennessee. After becoming the first female assistant public defender in Shelby County, Coleman-Davis went on to become a founding partner of the first all-female law firm in Tennessee in 1977. Several years later, she was hired as the first black female Assistant District Attorney for Shelby County. She would also be appointed the first black female Juvenile Court referee in Tennessee.
But it was in 1993 that Coleman-Davis would make national history — that’s when she was sworn in as the first black and first female U.S. Attorney in Tennessee, only the third black female U.S. Attorney in the country. Coleman also founded the National Institute for Law & Equity with 12 fellow African-American U.S. Attorneys to focus on fair and equal treatment for all people in the criminal justice system and then testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee about sentencing disparities in crack cocaine cases.
In 2014, Coleman-Davis chose to return to the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office. This time, she joined an office with far more female colleagues – in fact, nearly 40% of the lawyers in the office are women. The challenge that drew her back to the office more than 30 years later was juvenile justice. Coleman-Davis wanted to be part of the new Juvenile Defender Unit, established in an agreement with the Department of Justice to help remedy due process and equal protection violations in the Shelby County Juvenile Court.
“I was honored to be able to serve on the first Juvenile Court Shelby County Public Defender team,” said Coleman-Davis. “It has been one of the highlights of my years of practice to work with talented and caring attorneys and staff. I look forward to the time when the SCPD gets national recognition for the impact they are making on behalf of youth who come into the juvenile justice system.”
Coleman-Davis continues to serve on the board of Mothers of the NILE, an organization dedicated to reducing the number of children entering Shelby County’s juvenile justice system. She is past president of this non-profit, a spin-off program of the National Institute for Institute & Equity that was founded by Coleman-Davis. She also chairs the liturgy committee for Holy Names of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church.