Five states – Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, New Mexico and Ohio – hold the dubious distinction of leading the country in the percentage of children burdened with three or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), between birth and age 17, according to a recent Child Trends report.
Nationwide, the report said, one in 10 children had experienced three or more ACEs by the age of 18. In those five states, it was one in every seven children.
“There is growing interest in understanding the prevalence of these experiences across different communities in the United States, and how to prevent and respond to them,” said the report. “One mechanism responsible for these effects—toxic levels of stress—can be substantially buffered by a stable and supportive relationship with a caregiver.”
ACEs are traumatic events that include parental divorce or separation, living with a caregiver who has mental illness or substance abuse issues, experiencing or witnessing violence in the home or neighborhood, losing a parent to incarceration or death, economic hardship such as lack of food or housing, racial discrimination, and abuse or neglect.
High ACEs scores have been linked to numerous negative adult outcomes, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, suicide, poor physical health and obesity, the report said.
The Child Trends report was released earlier this year and is based on data collected through a 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health that polled more than 50,000 individuals. The survey did not include questions about discrimination or abuse and neglect.
Maryland and New York posted the lowest percentage of children experiencing three or more ACEs, 5 percent.
In Arizona, 18 percent of children had three or more ACEs, and the state ranks high, compared to the national average, for divorce/separation, losing a parent to incarceration and violence in the home.
New Mexico also saw 18 percent of its children experiencing three or more ACEs. The state ranks higher than the national average for children living with a caregiver who has mental illness or substance abuse in addition to divorce/separation and violence in the home.
In Arkansas, 56 percent of children had experienced at least one ACE.
Nationally, economic hardship and divorce or separation were the most common ACEs reported. The report also points out the prevalence of ACEs among black and Hispanic children. From the report:
“Disturbingly, black and Hispanic children and youth in almost all regions of the United States are more likely to experience ACEs than their white and Asian peers … Discriminatory housing and employment policies, bias in law enforcement and sentencing decisions, and immigration policies have concentrated disadvantage among black and Hispanic children, in particular, and leave them disproportionately vulnerable to traumatic experiences like ACEs.”
The report concludes with a call for a public health approach to prevention.
“Such an approach would complement allied perspectives that address social determinants of health, and use intervention models that are explicitly two-generational: focusing simultaneously on the needs of adults (particularly parents) and children who have been exposed (or who are at risk of exposure) to ACEs,” the report said.