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Survey Tracks Adverse Childhood Experiences

Jesse Costa/WBUR

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released a national survey of children's health that shows almost half of American kids experience traumatic experiences.

The study was produced by CAHMI, the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative.

Martha Davis is Senior Program Officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She is disturbed by the compendium in the 2016 edition of the National Survey of Children's Health and an analysis conducted by CAHMI.   "What it shows is a state by state breakdown of how many kids have experienced ACES. Now ACES stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences, can be events like living with someone who is depressed or mentally ill, a parent who abuses drugs or alcohol, divorce, the death of a parent and witnessing violence in the home or neighborhood."

  • National data shows 46.3 percent of kids (0-17) have had one or more ACE.
  • 21.7 percent of kids (0-17) have endured two or more.
  • 35 percent of kids (0-5) have had one or more.

Davis says there's been a great increase in the science and research about the impact of adversity on children.   "It impacts physical development, brain development, and has consequences for lifelong health and well-being."
In New York, 45.3 percent of kids have had one or more ACE, 15 percent kids 0-17 have had two or more ACE (lower than national average) and 38.7 percent kids 0-5 have had one or more , which is higher than national average.

Davis says awareness training in schools is a great place to begin.  Bill Wolff is executive director of Albany's LaSalle School:    "I think the most influential thing that's happened to us is how it’s guided our actual work. We've been able to shift and transform the culture of how we approach children, especially from something that's a 'why aren't you complying with the rules?' kind of approach to 'let us all try and understand the things that have happened to you,' and how those contribute to what's happening in your life today."

Davis hopes the latest findings will further raise awareness so ACES can be avoided.  "...through policies like paid family leave, home visiting. There's lots of good evidence that shows that home visiting can really improve outcomes and help prevent a lot of these difficulties from the beginning. We want to make sure that children and young people are in high-quality places of learning, so, access to high-quality child care, early education, great schools, investing in that. We know that the importance of health care, access to good health care, makes a big difference. And then of course there's a set of policies that we are thinking a lot about which is 'How can we help create healthy communities?' So, focusing on safe affordable housing, access to healthy foods, community violence prevention."

Wolff agrees the dissemination of information is a key remedy.   "We have so many professionals that interact with kids, or so many of the sectors that interact with kids from teachers to health care professionals to police to others that have no real knowledge of this and it's longer-term implications. So we're seeing a very very rapid and very rich appetite to learn this. Last year we had our fourth annual symposium and we filled a thousand-seat theater with multi-disciplined folks who came in for an entire day and heard presentations about this and information about how it applies. And most recently, through the efforts of our mayor and chief of police, my staff has been invited in to do training for the entire Albany Police Department, all of their sworn officers who are on the street, and that's over 325 officers who've all received kind of an ACES 101, which many of them really experienced, was extremely helpful to them. "

Aces Brief 101717

The New York State Department of Health is reviewing this new report. The department responded to a request fro comment by email, noting it is " taking a proactive approach to reducing the prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences through our State Action Plan for Maternal and Child Health. New York’s Joint Task Force on Social-Emotional Development, convened by the NYS Early Care and Learning Council and the NYS Early Intervention Coordinating Council, has developed adverse childhood experience guidance for programs that serve infants and toddlers and their families, helping to strengthen and support the healthy social-emotional development of New York children. "

More information:

@RWJF Proud to partner with @SesameCommunity to introduce new tools to help families cope with trauma:

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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