The ACEs and Toxic Stress Campaign

Through the Children & Youth Behavioral Health Initiative, our office was allocated $24M to create a campaign to increase public understanding of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress. We have the unique opportunity to build a campaign that gives youth and young adults across California the resources and strategies they need to manage toxic stress, heal from adversity, and end cycles of trauma. 

Why is this important?

ACEs are very common and are not unique or pervasive among one particular community. Per 2011-2017 data, California adults have experienced:

Exposure to ACEs or other adversity, without the buffering and nurturing care, can lead to the toxic stress response, which if left unaddressed can cause major short-term and long-term health problems for both children and adults. The more ACEs, the greater the chances of toxic stress.

Our Key Audiences

Two males on grass with rainbow flag

How We’re Engaging Californians

To develop this campaign, we have been holding a series of listening sessions with diverse youth and young adults, parents and caregivers, and community partners across the state, many of whom have been personally impacted by ACEs and toxic stress. We’ve asked them about their awareness and knowledge of ACEs and toxic stress, how they talk about these topics in their community, and what they want to see, feel, and learn from this campaign for it to have a lasting impact.

Our audiences have told us they want this campaign to make them feel hopeful, safe, relieved, deserving, supported, and understood – and ultimately, motivate them to begin their own unique journey towards healing.

Latest Updates

ACEs and Toxic Stress Campaign Listening Sessions Summary Report

New Report Highlights Youth and Caregiver Insights on ACEs & Toxic Stress

The Listening Sessions Summary Report compiles learnings from seven listening sessions that were held with youth & young adults, and parents/caregivers to inform The Office of the California Surgeon General’s ACEs and Toxic Stress Campaign. Some of the insights included individuals’ knowledge and perceptions of ACEs & toxic stress and creative preferences such as overall look and feel, resources, messaging, etc.

ACEs and Toxic Stress Campaign Preliminary Research Report

ACEs & Toxic Stress Landscape Report

As one of multiple methods to inform the development of the ACEs Public Awareness Campaign, this research report was developed to collect best practices, learn how Californians are discussing topics related to ACEs and toxic stress and help identify how our campaign can build on existing best practices throughout the state. 

Meet Our Subject Matter Experts

Cecilia Ayón
Dr. Cecilia Ayón received her doctorate in Social Welfare from the University of Washington. She is a Professor at the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside. She is a community-based researcher and specializes in hard to reach populations. Her research examines factors that promote/hinder the well-being of Latino immigrant families, immigration policy, health disparities, and intervention development and evaluation. She has been successful in securing funding for her research through the Silberman Foundation, the Foundation for Child Development, the California Initiative for Healthy Equity and Action, and the William T. Grant Foundation.
Eraka P. Bath
Dr. Bath is a Professor and Vice Chair for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the Department of Psychiatry, and senior advisor for the UCLA DGSOM Antiracism Roadmap (ARR). Board-certified in child and adolescent, adult, and forensic psychiatry, she has a long-standing interest in community mental health and has committed her career to advance health equity for ethnoracially minoritized and structurally marginalized youth and families, with a specialized focus on youth impacted by the foster care and juvenile legal systems. She has dedicated her time to working with structurally vulnerable populations and consults regularly with the court system. Her portfolio of research has included funding from the National Institutes of Health, PCORI, and the Los Angeles County Department of Probation. She teaches on structural racism and antiracism, and its impacts on mental health and biomedical research and workforce.

As a senior strategist to the ARR in the UCLA DGSOM, she leads or co-leads a variety of initiatives, including but not limited to, Restorative Justice in Academic Medicine, the Racial Justice Report Card, the Antiracist Transformation in Medical Education, JEDI Academic Mentoring Council and the Black Latinx Native American Faculty Collective. Her current research involves using community participatory models to increase engagement in behavioral and reproductive health for girls with histories of commercial sexual exploitation and those involved in the child welfare and juvenile legal system.

John R. Blosnich
John R. Blosnich, PhD, MPH is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for LGBTQ+ Health Equity in the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. His research focuses on health equity for LGBT individuals, with specific emphasis on social determinants of health as predictors of suicide risk, including the role of adverse childhood experiences. Dr. Blosnich has earned several research awards from both the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health. Most recently, Dr. Blosnich was a 2021 recipient of an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to support his research into adverse social factors that can be targeted for upstream suicide prevention.
Nadine Burke Harris
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is an award-winning physician, researcher and public health leader who has spent her career on the front lines of some of our world’s most pressing public health challenges. As California’s first-ever Surgeon General, she helped guide the state’s COVID response, co-chairing the committee to recommend vaccine allocation and helping California achieve the lowest cumulative mortality of any large state. Amid the throes of the COVID pandemic, Dr. Burke Harris successfully launched a first-in-the-nation statewide effort to train over 20,000 primary care providers on how to screen for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and respond with trauma-informed care.

Dr. Burke Harris’ career has been dedicated to serving vulnerable communities and combating the root causes of health disparities. After completing her MPH at Harvard and residency at Stanford, she founded a clinic in one of San Francisco’s most underserved communities, Bayview Hunters Point. It was there that Burke Harris identified Adverse Childhood Experiences as a major risk factor affecting the health of her patients and applied research from the CDC and Kaiser Permanente to develop a novel clinical screening protocol.

In 2011, she founded the Center for Youth Wellness to advance pediatric medicine, raise public awareness, and transform the way society responds to children exposed to ACEs and toxic stress. In this role she founded the Bay Area Research Consortium on Toxic Stress and Health and led the first-ever randomized-controlled trial to validate ACE screening and assess treatment of toxic stress.

Dr. Burke Harris served as a committee member and co-author for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine for the consensus report Vibrant and Health Kids: Aligning Science, Practice and Policy to Advance Health Equity, published in 2019; and as a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ National Advisory Board for Screening.

Her work has been profiled in best-selling books including “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough and “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance as well as in Jamie Redford’s feature film, “Resilience”. She has also been featured on NPR, CNN, and Fox News as well as in USA Today and the New York Times. Dr. Burke Harris’ TED Talk, “How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across the Lifetime” has been viewed more than 10 million times. Her book “The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity” was called “indispensable” by The New York Times.

Dr. Burke Harris is the recipient of the 2023 David G. Nichol Health Equity Award presented by the American Pediatric Society and the American Board of Pediatrics, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award presented by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Heinz Award for the Human Condition. She was named one of 2018’s Most Influential Women in Business by the San Francisco Business Times and as one of Capitol Weekly’s Top 100 most influential people in 2020.

Michele Evans
Dr. Michele Evans is a Sacramento area native. She attended UC Berkeley and majored in Ethnic Studies and Molecular and Cell Biology. Prior to attending medical school at the University of Southern California, Dr. Evans received a master’s degree at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in the Department of Population and Family Dynamics. Following medical school, Dr. Evans completed her internship and residency at the Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Medical Center. As an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, her primary role was in the Violence Intervention Program where she conducted evaluations for suspected child physical and sexual abuse and neglect. In this role, she worked closely with mental health professionals, child protective services, law enforcement and legal advocates. Dr. Evans has an interest in population health and the multidisciplinary efforts to meet the needs of pediatric populations and families. She joined The Permanente Medical Group in 2012 with the vision of improving the evaluation and follow up of children with suspected or confirmed maltreatment and strengthening community ties. For her work in Northern California, Dr. Evans has received Kaiser Permanente (KP)’s Sidney Garfield Exceptional Contribution Award, the community service award from the KP African American Professional Association, as well as recognition as part of the Sacramento Kings DREAM All Star Class of 2017. She is currently the Northern California Regional Medical Director of the KP Child Abuse Services and Prevention (CASP) program and works with over 70 physician champions to improve child abuse services to leverage KP’s integrated systems to strengthen families and to ensure a brighter future for children and families.
Rachel Gilgoff
As a board-certified general pediatrician, child abuse pediatrician, and integrative medicine specialist, Dr. Gilgoff brings a multidisciplinary approach to ACEs, toxic stress, healing, and well-being. Over the course of her career, she has been a co-investigator of the Pediatric ACEs Screening and Resilience Study (PEARLS), the Medical Director of the Clinical Innovations and Research Team within Center for Youth Wellness, and co-founder of the National Committee on Asthma and Toxic Stress. She co-developed the Resiliency Clinic, a group clinic intervention model to treat toxic stress, and more recently, co-created VITAL: Relational Health, a free, on-line learning series on the science and practice of relational health. She is currently an advisor with the California Aces Aware Initiative, an Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, and a co-PI on “Systems-based, Multidisciplinary Assessment of Adversity and Toxic Stress for Individualized Care (The SYSTEMAATIC Project),” an ACEs and Precision Medicine research project through the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine (CIAPM). Dr. Gilgoff is dedicated to addressing health issues resulting from child abuse and toxic stress, creating systems of care that incorporate the science of stress biology and wellness, and collaborating across sectors to develop multidisciplinary, integrative, human-centered, and holistic approaches to healing.
Mikah Owen


Based in the Sacramento area​, Dr. Owen was an adviser to the ACEs Aware initiative before joining UCAAN as Senior Director of Clinical & Academic Programs, Health Equity. Prior to joining UCAAN, Dr. Owen was an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UC Davis Health System​.

Dr. Owen earned an MD at UCSF, completed his Pediatric Residency at UC Davis, and completed his fellowship in Community and Societal Pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.​ He recently completed the Pozen-Commonwealth Fund Fellowship in Health Equity Leadership at Yale University.

Leigh Ann Simmons
Dr. Simmons is Chair and Professor in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of California, Davis, Director of the Health Equity Across the Lifespan (HEAL) Lab, and Co-Director of the UC Davis Perinatal Origins of Disparities (POD) Center. The overall aim of Dr. Simmons’ research, which has been funded by the NIH, the USDA, California Department of Public Health, and the Veterans Health Administration, is to promote population health equity in the incidence and prevalence of common chronic diseases (e.g., obesity, depression, cardiometabolic disorders, cancer) with a specific focus on childbearing people, rural residents, and historically marginalized groups. She has published over 75+ peer-reviewed papers and presented nationally and internationally on three core areas of scholarship: (1) characterizing co-occurring chronic disease risk factors in populations that experience health inequities; (2) understanding the impact of early life exposures (e.g., prenatal, family, community) on later life chronic disease risk; and (3) designing and testing behavioral and clinical interventions with an emphasis on innovative digital technology. Dr. Simmons earned a PhD in child and family development from the University of Georgia, a master’s degree in couple and family therapy from MCP-Hahnemann University (now Drexel University), and a BA in literature/writing from the University of California at San Diego. Between 2005-2010 she served as a Health Disparities Scholar through the NIH Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Dr. Simmons has extensive policy experience, having served as a Congressional Fellow on the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee for the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA).

Meet our Youth and Young Adult Advisory Council

Scan the QR code for more.

Baani Sabharwal

Youth Advisor: Luis Wualdemar Tun Orozco

Celeste Walley

Youth Advisor: Nancy Martinez Urieta

Celina Inzunza

Youth Advisor: Ronaldo (Ronnie) Villeda

Christian Jeff Yu Menguito

Youth Advisor: Setareh Harsamizadeh Tehrani

CiCi Williams

Youth Advisor: Ronnie Kuznicki-Mejia

Elita Jasmine Young

Youth Advisor: Shamar Knox

Jada Imani Carter

Youth Advisor: Shae Dellamaggiore

Jose Cruz

Youth Advisor: Sharon Tang

Josue (Swey) Pineda

Youth Advisor: Julio Sagastume

Julio Sagastume

Youth Advisor: Laura Avila

Laura Avila

Youth Advisor: Luis Wualdemar Tun Orozco

Luis Wualdemar Tun Orozco

Youth Advisor: Nancy Martinez Urieta

Nancy Martinez Urieta

Youth Advisor: Ronaldo (Ronnie) Villeda

Ronaldo (Ronnie) Villeda

Youth Advisor: Ronnie Kuznicki-Mejia

Ronnie Kuznicki-Mejia

Youth Advisor: Setareh Harsamizadeh Tehrani

Setareh Harsamizadeh Tehrani

Youth Advisor: Shae Dellamaggiore

Shae Dellamaggiore

Youth Advisor: Shamar Knox

Shamar Knox

Youth Advisor: Sharon Tang

Sharon Tang

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