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Adverse childhood experiences common in Kentucky, Indiana

June 29, 2015

ace_pyramid_homeA 2014 survey of adverse childhood experiences (ACES) found that 49 percent of Indiana and 46 percent of Kentucky residents have experienced at least one ACE – stressful or traumatic experiences, including abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic or experiencing violence, or growing up with substance abuse, mental illness or crime in the home.

More startling is that 15 percent and 16 percent, respectively, have experienced three or more ACES, which have been found to contribute to the risk of adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness and a higher risk of and for violence.

The data is from, “Adverse Childhood Experiences: National and state level prevalence,” a report by Vanessa Sacks, M.P.P, David Murphey, Ph.D, and Kristin Moore, Ph.D, published in July 2014. To contrast the Kentucky and Indiana findings, nationally, just under half (46 percent) of children in the U.S. have experienced at least one ACE.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study assessed associations between childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being. More than 17,000 people provided detailed information about their childhood abuse, neglect and family dysfunction in the study, which posits that certain experiences heighten the risk for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States.

In the 2014 study, the authors measured the prevalence of eight adverse childhood experiences, including whether the child:

  • 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.
  • Was ever the victim of violence or witnessed any violence in his or her neighborhood.
  • Experienced economic hardship “somewhat often” or “very often.”

The study found that in Indiana, 49 percent of respondents had experienced one ACE, 36 percent experienced two ACEs and 15 percent experienced three. Results for Kentucky were 46 percent, 37 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

“These numbers are significant,” says Pam Darnall, president and CEO of Family & Children’s Place, which works to stop and prevent child abuse, violence and neglect, and help children and families recover from the trauma. “Every additional adverse experience a child endures magnifies the risk of disease and problems as an adult – cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure – not to mention the enhanced likelihood of mental illness, obesity, addictive behaviors and other significant health issues.”

That’s why it’s so important that victims of violence, abuse or neglect, regardless their age, have access to treatment and services provided by agencies such as Family & Children’s Place, said Darnall.

“Trauma is recoverable, but it requires compassionate and professional help and assistance. Numbers such as those seen in this and other reports indicate the very real and growing need for proven treatment programs to help people be able to lead happy, healthy lives despite their painful pasts.”

Family & Children’s Place is committed to providing trauma-informed care to help clients navigate their adverse experiences.  Our trauma-informed task force includes community leaders, consumers and staff dedicated to helping clients and those who suffer secondary trauma navigate the passage to healing.

In both states, economic hardship was the most common ACE reported in the research, followed by divorce or separation of a parent or guardian. The prevalence of ACEs increases with a child’s age and alcohol or drug abuse, exposure to neighborhood violence and mental illness were among the most commonly reported ACES nationally.

In Indiana and Kentucky, data showed that 28 percent of Hoosiers from birth through age 17 suffered economic hardship vs. 30 percent in Kentucky. Divorce impacted 24 percent of respondents in Indiana and 29 percent in Kentucky. Alcohol was cited by 13 percent in Indiana and 14 percent in Kentucky, and incarceration was cited by 11 percent in Indiana and 13 percent in Kentucky. Eleven percent of Hoosiers also note mental illness in their ACEs results.

Both states scored in several categories in the highest quartiles for prevalence of ACES, including, having a parent/guardian who served time in jail and domestic violence.

These results demonstrate how important it is for everyone to be watchful for abuse, to report it when you suspect or see it and ensure that treatment is readily available to help the child and the family manage the trauma, said Darnall. Additionally, she noted that it’s also important that we as a society pay attention to and continue to address issues and conditions in families that contribute to violence, abuse and neglect.