Building connected & inclusive communities

We are a working group part of the Children and Youth Planning Table of Waterloo Region.


Our goal is to create community action to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), increase positive childhood experiences and speak out on community conditions that negatively affect individuals and families.

About the PACEs Steering Committee

  • To establish a framework to guide sector action
    • Related to preventing and addressing ACEs
    • Promoting positive supports to mitigate the impacts of ACEs
    • Using an equity and Truth and Reconciliation lens
  • To develop a cross-sector understanding of the connection between early childhood adversity and experiences as youth and adults
  • To better understand and integrate knowledge about the impact of health inequities on ACEs.
  • To develop an action plan for identified priorities in the framework
  • To meaningfully engage community partners, grassroots organizations and members of the community
  • To learn from each other, break down siloes, and support initiatives in the community
  • To report progress on the action plan to stakeholders

An inclusive, caring community where everyone contributes to fostering positive experiences and equitable environments to raise children and youth, working together to build community resilience, supporting the healing process of intergenerational trauma, and preventing or reducing the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

For more information about the Waterloo Region PACEs Steering Committee, contact the committee facilitator Erin Tardiff Heldmann, or the  Co-Chairs Debbie Engel and Grace Bermingham.

What are PACEs?

All children have great potential. Early childhood is a critical time of development. We need to protect children from experiencing severe or long-lasting stress that can impact brain development.


This type of stress can change the way a person‘s brain functions and their ability to cope with life stressors. We can promote and support positive relationships for children and youth.


This buffers the impact of stress and supports healthy brain development.

Explaining Stress

Stress in life is normal and helps us grow and learn but not all stress is the same. Long-lasting or severe stress such as child abuse, neglect, or household violence is also known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).


When a growing child, without a caring community, feels this type of stress or trauma, their body cannot turn off the stress response normally. This can cause harm to a child’s body and brain and can lead to lifelong health problems.


The environment around us can lead to harmful stress that impacts the brain. Children may experience stress from larger issues in their communities like:

  • poverty

  • neighborhood violence

  • racism

  • war

  • being forced to leave their homes


These issues can have long-term effects on groups of people and influence their well-being and development.

Reducing stress

We can reduce the stress that a family is dealing with. We are then creating a supportive environment for children’s healthy development.


Some ways to reduce stress include:

Addressing root causes of stress

Supporting parents and caregivers

Offering culturally relevant initiatives

Creating places to connect

Removing barriers to access to services

Why should we prevent severe stress/ACES?

Preventing severe stress can support better learning, decision-making, and resiliency. Research shows that long experiences of harmful stress affects children throughout their life and can lead to chronic health issues and diseases, addictions, and mental health.


People at all income and social levels can experience harmful stress. Community conditions add more stress for some groups. We must all work to end systemic racism, social isolation, and structural barriers to opportunity. This enables people to reach their optimal health and wellbeing.

What can be done?

Positive relationships and experiences throughout life can lessen the impacts of trauma. Providing safe spaces and connections are important protective factors. They can prevent negative health outcomes. They can support the healing process of intergenerational trauma throughout the lifespan. This is the positive or “P” of PACES.


Collectively, community organizations and members can work together to build supportive, equitable environments for families and children. Some community actions that we all have a role in to build protective factors include:


The Waterloo Region PACES Steering Committee is working on what collective actions would best support our community. Click the button below to see the goals and outcomes in our living strategic plan.

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