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Traumatic Experiences Widespread Among U.S. Youth, New Data Show


October 19, 2017
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Princeton, N.J.—New national data show that at least 38 percent of children in every state have had at least one Adverse Childhood Experience or ACE, such as the death or incarceration of a parent, witnessing or being a victim of violence, or living with someone who has been suicidal or had a drug or alcohol problem. In 16 states, at least 25 percent of children have had two or more ACEs. Findings come from data in the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health and an analysis conducted by the Child & Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative (CAHMI) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

ACEs can have serious, long-term impacts on a child’s health and well-being by contributing to high levels of toxic stress that derail healthy physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. Research shows that ACEs increase the long-term risk for smoking, alcoholism, depression, heart and liver diseases, and dozens of other illnesses and unhealthy behaviors. The new data show that 33 percent of children with two or more ACEs have a chronic health condition involving a special health care need, compared to 13.6 percent of children without ACEs.

Nationally, more than 46 percent of U.S. youth—34 million children under age 18—have had at least one ACE, and more than 20 percent have had at least two. The new analysis includes state-by-state percentages of children with ACEs, ranging from 38.1 percent in Minnesota to 55.9 percent in Arkansas. The ten states with the highest rates are either in the South or West. The newest national and state data, along with an issue brief and maps, can be found at www.cahmi.org.

“Every child deserves a healthy start. A loving home, a good school, a safe neighborhood—these things are the foundation for a long and happy life, yet too many children don’t have them,” said Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Too often children experience trauma that can be devastating. But trauma doesn’t have to define a child’s life trajectory. They can be incredibly resilient. With policies that help families raise healthy children, and the consistent presence of caring adults in their lives, we can reduce the impact of trauma on children’s health and help them thrive in the face of adversity.”