Software Entrepreneur Leverages Personal Experience To Help Next Generation Of At-Risk Kids

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Ripple Effects’ Software Discreetly Gives Children of Alcoholics Personal Support While Preserving Peer Relationships

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Seeing the lifelong crippling effects of early emotional injury on a brother has been a continuing motivation to prevent other children from experiencing those outcomes.

In recognition of Children of Alcoholics Week, Ripple Effects’ CEO, Alice Ray opens up about how her personal experience as a child growing up in an alcoholic home inspired her to create Ripple Effects (, the leading digital provider of student social-emotional learning and self-directed mental health guidance tools, and how the software discreetly offers hope and personal support to children of alcoholics today. Motivated by both scientific research and her own experiences, Ray has created a school-based software program that gives children facing discipline and behavioral issues the opportunity to discreetly lookup and define their problems. Once they choose a topic, children can then get professionally vetted answers and solutions through multi-media tutorials with true video stories and games that provide skill building, problem solving and personal guidance. As a result, teachers and school administrators are seeing positive change and lasting outcomes in children that have historically been a challenging group to reach and help.

Over the last 10 years, Ripple Effects has found that when children in discipline settings are allowed to privately use the innovative software program to explore what THEY think are the reasons underlying behavior problems, 18% of students in second to fifth grade lookup the words “alcoholic parent” and 18% lookup the word “beaten.” These same students secondarily lookup the words “angry” and “afraid.” But these same students rarely speak up to trusted adults at school and present behavior problems to offset attention to their home situation. As students get older, the focus on alcoholic parents continues to be high; but they also explore topics such as “dating abuse,” “domestic violence,” and “depression,” as well as “anger” and “fear”.

According to Ray, “Children themselves intuitively know what scientists discovered 15 years ago with the landmark Study of Adverse Childhood Events (ACE): living with alcoholism, domestic violence, and abuse, can result in social-emotional and cognitive impairments that lead to life-long negative health outcomes. Kids also know from their own lives the connection that scientists have only recently confirmed: social-emotional impairments that follow in the wake of adverse child experiences also have a major impact on school performance, both academic and behavioral.”

Childhood trauma has a social and emotional impact that hurts grades and behavior. The ACE Study calls for “an integrated approach to intervene early on behalf of children growing up with alcohol abuse in the home and the abuse, violence, neglect, and the other ACEs that frequently co-occur in these homes.” Emerging educational policy calls for school-based, early intervening services for students who carry these risks. But how can you deliver these services without further stigmatizing children who may treasure school as their only sanctuary from difficult family circumstances? How do you make sure that all kids have access to the most effective strategies for building their resilience, while not compromising their privacy? And how do you make it affordable?

These are some of the questions that prompted Ray to co-found Ripple Effects and develop the social-emotional intervention software that is now listed on the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP) as a comprehensive children’s mental health intervention, with documented positive impact on both grades and resilience assets of empathy and problem solving.

For Ray, mitigating the impact of adverse childhood experiences has never been an esoteric challenge. She says, “My father’s alcoholism was the trigger for a cascade of awful personal circumstances that nearly swamped me. School was a sanctuary for me. The last thing I wanted was for some well-meaning teacher or counselor to drag my horrible family experiences into the only place that was clean of them. On the few occasions they did, I reacted by acting out to divert attention anywhere else. Still, it would have helped so much to know that my experiences were not so very uncommon, and that I could learn coping skills, including eventually talking to a trusted adult, that would have made things easier.”

“I was a lucky one and thrived despite my circumstance. Others in my family were not so lucky. Seeing the lifelong crippling effects of early emotional injury on a brother has been a continuing motivation to prevent other children from experiencing those outcomes. Efficacy research is showing that we are meeting that goal, at a level beyond what I thought was possible.”

Previously failing students who privately used Ripple Effects, in lieu of math or language arts just twice a week for seven weeks, saw their grades go up more than a full point within a single semester. They stayed in school at higher rates. Discipline problems went down. In addition, students who were exposed to Ripple Effects for universal, social-emotional skill building saw scores for empathy and problem solving (resiliency assets) go up. More than 4000 schools across the US are already using Ripple Effects as a cost-effective, personalized intervention for children with social-emotional challenges.

Based in San Francisco, Ripple Effects (http://www.rippleeffects) is the leading digital provider of student social-emotional learning and self-directed mental health guidance tools for children and teens. Ripple Effects’ line of award-winning, evidence-based software programs use peer narration and interactive gaming to reach vulnerable students and positively change behavior. These media-rich programs are used in more than 600 school districts, after-school, and community programs nationally, and have garnered 30 major awards.


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Karie Stern
Mill Valley Partners
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