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How Trauma Affects Child Development

Research dating back to the mid-1990s shows that when children experience trauma, it has a lasting impact on their health and well-being. This study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser-Permanente is known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs.

An understanding of how trauma affects child development is important for any professional working in the prevention field.

The Basics of ACEs

The CDC and Kaiser-Permanente undertook a large study from 1995 to 1997 of how childhood experiences, inclusive of child abuse and neglect, affected health and wellbeing later in life. More than 17,000 members of a health plan were examined and filled out confidential questionnaires about their childhoods.

The adverse childhood experiences measured by the study included:

  • Psychological, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Physical or emotional neglect
  • Parental divorce or separation
  • Violence against mother
  • Living with someone who abused drugs, had mental illness, was suicidal, or was ever imprisoned

They found that about two-thirds of participants reported experiencing at least one of these adverse experiences by age 18.

Based on the health data collected, they determined that the more adverse experiences someone had as a child, the higher the risk for negative outcomes later in life, including:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Depression
  • Fetal death
  • Poor work performance
  • Financial stress
  • Risk for domestic violence
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Smoking at a young age, or throughout life
  • Suicide attempts
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Sexual violence
  • Doing poorly in school

Preventing ACEs

The study is ongoing today and has resulted in the creation of a number of programs shown to be effective in preventing adverse childhood experiences, which means children get a better chance at leading healthy and happy lives.

Some methods shown to work include:

  • Home visits to pregnant women and new parents
  • Parent training programs
  • Social support for parents
  • Domestic violence prevention programs

These are just some of the types of programs supported by the Ohio Children’s Trust Fund.

The CDC has collected a wealth of information about ACEs. We recommend visiting their website for more information.