The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences Doesn’t End in Childhood

What happens when the kids we label as ‘at-risk’ for maltreatment grow up? They become at-risk adults and the research on these adults paints an unfortunate picture of what happens when you grow up in an environment exposed to those risks. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the negative impact of child maltreatment doesn’t end in childhood.

An infographic was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Veto Violence initiative this past year. The initiative couples social media with violence prevention in order to spread the word about how violence impacts our society. This infographic displays outcomes for adults when they are exposed to violence or other adverse experiences as children.

Adverse Childhood Experiences, commonly referred to as ACEs, are harmful events in a child’s life that include but are not limited to- emotional,  physical or sexual abuse and household dysfunction. Household dysfunction includes events like domestic violence, a separation or divorce, an incarcerated parent or member of the household, witnessing substance abuse, or living with a household member that has an untreated mental illness.

An unprecedented research study was performed in California between 1995-1997 that examined the relationship between adverse childhood experiences with reduced health and well-being later in life. After surveying 17,000 people, the study revealed there were dramatic links between adverse childhood experiences and risky behavior, psychological issues, and serious illnesses. It is also estimated that individuals with 6 or more adverse childhood experiences die 20 years earlier than the average individual without these experiences.

Not only do adverse childhood experiences have a life-long impact on the individual, they also impact society in often undesirable, costly ways. The Center for Disease Control estimates that the lifetime costs associated with child maltreatment, such as child welfare, criminal justice, medical care, and loss of productivity in the United States is $124 billion overall.

Studies on adverse childhood experiences have expanded in recent years. Fifteen states between 2009 and 2011, including our neighbor Tennessee, collected information on these experiences using the Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System module. Many of these states used the information to help improve their child welfare service delivery system. For example, Wisconsin now places a greater emphasis on prevention and best practices as a result of data collected.

The ACE study, the infographic and related research on child maltreatment reinforce that prevention is key to protect children as young people to ensure children are able to grown up into productive, thriving adults. It is in everyone’s best interest to keep children, our most vulnerable asset, safe from harm.

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