December 6, 2013
Can a traumatic childhood experience cause adult health problems? A landmark study shows that exposure to an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) like abuse and neglect can actually increase the odds of later developing serious adult health issues like cancer, liver disease and heart disease. It can also make people more prone to suicide, poor work performance and a host of other negative outcomes.
The groundbreaking research survey known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) asked over 17,000 adults to report on 10 adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse and neglect, parental divorce, domestic violence and parental mental illness. The study found a significant association between cumulative Adverse Childhood Experiences and a variety of negative outcomes as adults, including physical health problems, mental health concerns, substance abuse and risky sexual behaviors, and poor work performance. The impacts of these early traumas are cumulative – the more early ACEs, the higher the chances of poor outcomes in adulthood. For example, the odds of having negative health outcomes in adulthood are up to 12 times higher for those who experienced four or more ACE events than those who did not.
Why does this study matter for child welfare? Children who have been abused and neglected have suffered at least one ACE and oftentimes had childhoods full of trauma. A recent study found that one out of every two children in the child welfare system had experienced four or more traumas similar to the ACES measures, compared to only one out of every eight adults in the original ACES study population (which roughly mirrors the general public). Even more concerning was the finding that almost 4 out of every 10 children aged 0 to 2 in the child welfare sample had already experienced four or more adverse experiences at that point in their young lives.
What does this mean for child welfare? It means we must try to protect children from negative early experiences. But even if a child has experienced something negative like abuse, critical interventions can help ensure children don’t have even more negative outcomes that can last a lifetime. So, even if a child has been abused, supporting the child and their family with trauma-informed practices may help prevent further negative impacts.
What does this mean for children? It means programs like CASA and SCAN’s parenting classes CAN help protect children from further trauma and build resiliency in their families, and it’s critical that we continue to support them here in our community.