A new report from Child Trends shows that just under half of children in the U.S. have had at least one of a series of major, potentially traumatic events associated with an increased risk of poor health and illness as adults. One in ten kids has experienced three or more of eight adverse childhood experiences included in the National Survey of Children’s Health, which was used for this study.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being. The prevalence of adverse childhood experiences, including economic hardship, witnessing domestic violence at home, living with a divorced parent or guardian, and others, varies dramatically across the states. In Arizona, for example, more than one in four teens have lived with someone with alcohol or drug problems. In Kentucky, more than one in ten have lived with a parent or guardian who has been incarcerated. Some states have lower incidence, such as New Jersey, where more than 60 percent of kids have never had any of the experiences the survey measured.
Key findings of the report are;
- Economic hardship is the most common adverse childhood experience (ACE) reported nationally and in almost all states, followed by divorce or separation of a parent or guardian. Only in Iowa, Michigan, and Vermont is divorce or separation more common than economic hardship; in the District of Columbia, having been the victim of or witness to violence has the second-highest prevalence, after economic hardship.
- The prevalence of ACEs increases with a child’s age (parents were asked whether their child had “ever” had the experience), except for economic hardship, reported about equally for children of all ages, reflecting high levels of poverty among young families.
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs, exposure to neighborhood violence, and the occurrence of mental illness are among the most commonly-reported adverse childhood experiences in every state.
- Just under half (46 percent) of children in the U.S. have experienced at least one ACE. In 16 states, a slight majority of children have experienced at least one ACE. In Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey, 60 percent or more of children have never experienced an ACE.
- States vary in the pattern of specific ACEs. Connecticut and New Jersey have some of the lowest prevalence rates nationally for all ACEs, while Oklahoma has consistently high prevalence.
Researchers measured the prevalence of eight adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), consisting of whether the child ever:
- Lived with a parent or guardian who got divorced or separated;
- Lived with a parent or guardian who died;
- Lived with a parent or guardian who served time in jail or prison;
- Lived with anyone who was mentally ill or suicidal, or severely depressed for more than a couple of weeks;
- Lived with anyone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs;
- Witnessed a parent, guardian, or other adult in the household behaving violently toward another (e.g., slapping, hitting, kicking, punching, or beating each other up);
- Was ever the victim of violence or witnessed any violence in his or her neighborhood; and
- Experienced economic hardship “somewhat often” or “very often” (i.e., the family found it hard to cover costs of food and housing).
“The data show that these experiences are not rare, but their prevalence varies dramatically state-to-state,” said Vanessa Sacks, a research analyst at Child Trends and an author of the study. “For example, more than one in ten kids nationally has lived with someone who has an alcohol or drug use problem. In Montana, almost one in five children has, while in Georgia, it’s less than one in 10.”
How adverse experiences affect teens:
Researchers also examined the association between teenagers’ well-being and their history of adverse experiences. “Nationally, 15 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 have had three or more of the adverse experiences we looked at,” Sacks said. “These youth are not doing as well as their peers.”
Nearly half of teenagers who have had three or more adverse experiences have low levels of engagement in school, and more than 20 percent have repeated a grade. These youth are far more likely to argue a lot or even to bully or be cruel to others.
The report, which was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, calls for increased attention to the conditions in families and communities that contribute to the occurrence of adverse childhood experiences. It also suggests having more training of pediatricians, child welfare and juvenile justice caseworkers, family court judges, school personnel (including for early childhood), and others who work closely with children, for the early detection and treatment of children affected by trauma.
“Policymakers should review the prevalence of these experiences for their state,” Sacks said. “Once they know where the problems are most pronounced, they can begin to prioritize and address them.”
GROWING UP GRANITE
So how are Granite State children doing? The following is from Policy Blog NH, from the NH Center for Public Policy Studies.
Child well-being in NH: Where we rank
New Hampshire has long enjoyed the top spot in the annual Kids Count index, which ranks the relative health, safety, and education of children from state to state. But in the most recent ranking, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, New Hampshire fell from first to fourth among the states for child well-being.
What’s behind this drop?
First, let’s look at the workings behind the rankings. The Kids Count index is broken down into four categories: economic well-being; education; health; and family and community. Each category contains four measurements, and the index compares each state’s 2014 data to the data for the same measurements in 2005. In most areas, New Hampshire’s numbers improved or held steady from previous years.
But in one area of particular, the state saw drops across the board: economic well-being.
The measurements in this category include child poverty rate, children whose parents lack secure employment, children living in a household with high housing cost burden, and teens out of school and not working. In each of those measurements, New Hampshire’s numbers are worse than in 2005.
The child poverty rate, in particular, saw a big change, according to the Kids Count data, which is based on the U.S. Census’s annual American Community Survey (ACS). The New Hampshire child poverty rate in 2012 was 15.6 percent, with a 2.1 percent margin of error, according to the ACS data. The previous year, the state child poverty rate was 12 percent. New Hampshire saw the largest single-year jump in child poverty rate of any state (though the margin of error for New Hampshire also among the largest, since the state has one of the smallest population of the states, and is thus more subject to fluctuations in the survey data.)
That the state’s poverty rate for children has increased is not news. We can also consult data from the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program of the Census, which allows us to compare annual poverty rates over a longer period of time. Since 2003, New Hampshire has seen child poverty rate increase from an estimated 7.8 percent to 13.6 percent in 2012 – a roughly 74 percent increase.
Across that same time period, child poverty rates in the US generally increased by a relatively smaller amount: 28 percent.
The economic well-being measure may be the most important for the overall well-being and success of a child. Research indicates that living in poverty can impede a child’s cognitive development, and children from low-income households typically fare worse on measures of academic success, such as test scores and high school graduation rates.
There was also plenty of good news in the recent Kids Count data too. New Hampshire earned the top spot among the states in the family and community ranking, which takes into account measures such as the percent of children in single-parent families, children living in high-poverty areas, and teen births.
In the education category, which measured the percentage of children not in preschool, math and reading levels, and high school graduation rates, New Hampshire did quite well, also. In each of those measures, New Hampshire actually saw an improvement in every measurement since 2005. (New Hampshire’s full data profile can be found here.)
It’s important to note: In all but two of the index’s 16 data measurements, New Hampshire scored better than the national rate. The two places where New Hampshire lagged behind the rest of the country were in the percentage of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs (7 percent for New Hampshire, vs. 6 percent nationally) and the percentage of children in a household with high housing cost burden (39 percent for New Hampshire vs. 38 percent nationwide.)
New Hampshire is in a relatively high-ranking region of the country when it comes to child well-being. Two of our neighbors – Massachusetts and Vermont – shot past New Hampshire in the rankings and now occupy the first and second slots, respectively. Maine ranked 14th overall. Rounding out New England, Connecticut ranked 7th, and Rhode Island was at 26th place among the 50 states.