Preventing ACEs and Future Substance Use Through Narrative Change and Cross-Sector Partnerships

About the Program

The National Network of Public Health Institutes and the Michigan Public Health Institute, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local health departments, community power-building organizations, and Vanderbilt University supported a three-year initiative to promote the primary prevention of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as a strategy to prevent future substance use in three midwestern communities.  To build support for changing the conditions in which children and families live, community organizers, public health practitioners, and their partners implemented narrative change as a key strategy. This approach involved participating in a two-day in-person workshop to create a shared, values-based narrative and then implementing it within their networks to increase support for addressing conditions that contribute to ACEs and substance use disorders.

Examples of narrative change activities from participating project partners:

  • Our Stories. Our Healing Video Podcast Series: The Cuyahoga County Board of Health, A Vision of Change, Creating Greater Destinies, and the ADAMHS Board teamed up to launch this video series titled Our Stories, Our Healing. This series aims to raise awareness through storytelling by community members who have overcome traumas and found healing. Mental health, substance use disorders, and domestic violence are a few of the topics that will be explored throughout the series.

Additional Resources

Partner Websites

Transforming the Narrative: Health Equity & The Community – A Video Training and Workbook

This video training will help you get started on understanding narrative, the power of narrative, co-creating an aspirational or transformative narrative and integrating it into your work towards health equity. This is group work, not to be done in isolation. Community does not happen in a silo. Neither does co-creating an aspirational narrative or building power for healthy communities.

This training is divided into sections, many of which include group activities to deepen relationships and understandings and to begin to strategize about narrative change work. Throughout the video, you will hear from participants in the narrative and ACEs project.

Coming Soon: Transforming the Narrative: Health Equity & The Community – A Toolkit

In response to the need for more tools and trainings around narrative change, this toolkit was designed, not as a step-by-step guide to narrative change, but to complement the narrative work being done in our communities every day that decrease exposure to ACEs prevent substance use, and create more opportunities for health equity. The goal of this toolkit is to offer insight from project partners that built and amplified transformative narratives in their communities, as well as resources that will help others build sustainable, cross-sector relationships, and grassroots power that help us all achieve health equity. For health departments, this helps to offer a frame for more justice-rooted language.

We recommend using the toolkit in collaboration with the video training. The workbook is located at the end of the toolkit. When choosing to engage in narrative change work we ask you to be curious about yourself and the others you are inviting in. Know that this work is powerful and that we all have biases and stories that impact how and why we interact with our families, communities, and organizations the way we do. When we say “yes” to working together we learn how to listen more intently and get clear about the changes we see as integral to evolution.


Funding for this publication was provided to the National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI) through a Cooperative Agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award (CDC – 6 NU1ROT000016-01-02) totaling $2,900,000.

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