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How Are ACEs and Trauma Incorporated Into 
Celebrating Families!™?
R. Tisch 2015


Celebrating Families!™(CF!) was originally developed for families in the Family Treatment (Drug Dependency Courts). Participants were mostly female, in substance use disorder treatment programs, with reported child abuse or neglect cases, often accompanied by domestic or intimate partner violence. In addition most women had experienced trauma as children. Celebrating Families!™ Program Developers assumed that participants had experienced a high number of ACEs, were dealing with trauma and toxic stress and had learning differences or cognitive deficits. Therefore CF! was created as a trauma-informed, strength-based curriculum by a team of experts, many having had personal experiences with substance use disorders, abuse/neglect and family violence (ACEs). The curriculum specifically addresses adverse childhood experiences through teaching and modeling: 

  • Identification and appropriate expression of feelings/defenses.

  • Attachment strategies & essential parenting skills.

  • Boundaries and healthy relationships.

  • Centering and self-care.

  • Healthy living skills.

  • Knowledge we are part of something larger than ourselves, including service to others, and seeing beauty in the world. 

  • Self-worth/self-efficacy.

  • Strategies on how to break the family cycles of addiction, abuse, neglect and violence.

Screening: As the focus on children and families may be new to agencies, Celebrating Families!™ provides implementation sites with a suggested Intake that includes children and possible family concerns. Questions include: 

  • Who lives in the place of residence? Who does the child live with? Who has legal custody? Are there any restraining orders? Have there been any problematic custody issues? 

  • What’s the family’s preferred language? 

  • Who is dealing with a substance use disorder? Are they in recovery? What is their support system? 

  • What is the children’s knowledge of substance use, domestic violence, incarceration? 

  • What is the medical history of the child’s pregnancy including exposure to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, other toxins, violence? 

  • Are there guns in the home? 

  • What’s the family medical history including learning differences, mental health concerns (hyperactivity, autism, depression), speech problems, and suicide or suicide attempts? 

  • What’s the legal history? Have police ever come to the home? Children ever been in court?  Has anyone in the house/family ever pushed, hit, called names or felt afraid? Have there been legal problems due to substance use? Has there been incest, abuse?  What has the child witnessed or heard? 

These questions, asked by a trained staff member, generally elicit information similar to the ACE survey and alerts CF! staff for possible safety and trigger concerns.

Training on this evidence-based program is provided by certified, national NACoA trainers and includes specific information on  trauma-informed group leadership, ACEs, the ACE pyramid, toxic stress, risk and resiliency factors, trauma-informed group leadership, attachment, empowerment of parents (Group Leader’s skill of Guiding on the Side), and strategies for working with individuals with cognitive deficits or learning differences. Trauma informed group leadership includes: 

  • Creating safe, nurturing, structured environments. 

  • Honoring safe, respectful boundaries - between participants, as well as among participants and staff. 

  • Knowing the importance of language in communicating. 

  • Supporting empowerment and recovery including teaching parents nurturing and empowering skills to use with their children. (Empowerment helps individuals figure out what is best for themselves.)  

  • Teaching and modeling for parents “time ins” rather than “time outs” to avoid punitive approaches and shaming. (Time-ins are standing beside and staying with a child or adult while teaching/modeling appropriate behavior.)  

  • Providing opportunities for families to learn, practice and experience healthy living skills (sleep, nutrition, limiting screens), communication, positive discipline, and building parent-child relationships through play, games, family nights and meals. 

  • Modeling and teaching how to manage anger, deal with conflict, and peacefully resolve disagreements. 

  • Sharing with group leaders and administrators the importance of their own self-care.


It is the belief of Celebrating Families!™  that recovery and learning happens through healthy relationships. Group leader training also includes: 

  • Basic safety for participants and leaders

  • Awareness of possible triggers and how to address them when they occur

  • Handling of transition times, especially for small children

  • Importance of group agreements and consistent strength-based consequences (all ages)

    to create environments free from violence, harassment, bullying and teasing

  • Significance of stress reduction and centering for all ages

  • Value of

    • Consistent, nurturing, strength-based environments (leaders, rooms and agendas)

    • Multi-modal instructional techniques

    • Connection and collaboration, encouraging open and welcoming dialogue; respect

      of participants; and communication with family and significant others when physically and emotionally safe.

Resilience-building principles and approachesCF’s mission is to help children and families become healthy, responsible and addiction free. Its specific goals are to increase protective factors and decrease risk factors in participants’ lives in order to promote resiliency. Besides training Group Leaders on Risk and Protective (resiliency) factors, in Session 11, parents/caregivers are specifically taught risk and protective (resiliency) factors, from which they establish a goal for the next 5 sessions. (Group leaders check-in on progress towards achieving goals on a weekly basis.) Curriculum objectives include:

1. To decrease participants’ use of alcohol and other drugs by increasing their knowledge and use of healthy living skills:

  • Develop better communication skills.

  • Learn how to express their feelings appropriately.

  • Be able to demonstrate anger management skills.

  • Increase their knowledge of the impact of alcohol, and

    prescription and illegal drugs on children, individuals and families.

  • Be able to use problem solving and decision making skills.

  • Develop coping skills to deal with stressful situations.

  • Develop a list of resources they can turn to for help.

2. To work with agencies that serve children and families impacted by addiction to alcohol and other drugs to increase:

  • Rate of family organization and cohesion

  • Rate of successful completion of treatment (court program)

  • Positive parent/child interactions

  • Children’s well-being and functioning, and their knowledge of chemical

  • Dependency and future potential for their use of alcohol and drugs, and their use of healthy living skills

  • Social responsibility of participants (employment, service to others)


Outside evaluation has shown that CF! achieves these goals with large effect sizes. (Studies available at Specific skills taught include:

Celebrating Families!™ Skills and Information Chart Items Listed in Order They Appear in Curriculum

More information is available in the preface of Celebrating Families!™ Basic curriculum sections Why These Program Topics and Definitions of Terms. Preface. For more information visit: www.celebratingfamlies.netor call NACoA at 301-468-0985.

©2015  R. Tisch

Skills *

  • Strengthening family relationships: Family meals, family night

  • Centering/ meditation/relaxation

  • Affirming, encouraging children: Importance of 1-on-1 time with children, telling children

    “I love you”, reading to children

  • Planning nutritious meals

  • Communication: Use of “I” messages, ways

    to communicate, active listening. With children 0-3 using: baby cues and sign language, sportscasting, turn taking,following children’s lead

  • Anger management, keeping out of fights, avoiding conflicts (especially with children)

  • Appropriate expression of feelings, understanding defenses

  • Becoming a nurturing parent, giving children age-appropriate choices (decision making)

  • Becoming a safe family: Safety plans, check lists

  • Choosing safe and trustworthy friends

  • Identification of safe people

  • Problem solving: Steps in making wise


  • Goal setting, dreams for the future

  • Recognizing and establishing boundaries

  • Saying no to others

  • Relaxing and enjoying children

Information *

  • Components of healthy living, including sleep, importance of dependable schedules, limited screen time

  • Nutrition and Impact of sugar on brain chemistry

  • Facts about alcohol, tobacco, prescription and illegal drug use; addiction; brain chemistry; dangers of children’s and adolescents’ use

  • Recognition of the influence of media and advertising

  • Facts about how chemical dependency affects families, friends and relationships

  • Truth Statements for chemical dependency and domestic violence

  • Attachment and attachment-based limit setting

  • Facilitating healthy brain development, language development, and encouraging autonomy and exploration

  • Bullying and power & control

  • Choosing safe and trustworthy friends &

    How to be a good friend

  • Facts about domestic/family violence

  • Learning differences and in-utereo exposure

  • Risk and Protective Factors

  • Relapse and staying safe

  • Protecting children: Safety planning, good

    taking action on their behalf

  • Resources

Insights *

  • Helping others: Acts of Kindness

  • Personal & family values clarification

  • Knowledge that we are part of something larger than ourselves: Wonder of the World (WOW


  • Self-Worth/Self-Efficacy: Recognizing and celebrating each person’s uniqueness and personal


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