Nearly half of U.S. children have experienced trauma, according to a study by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Researchers examined data from more than 95,000 children from birth to age 17 and found that 48 percent had encountered at least one of nine types of adverse experiences, including: physical or emotional abuse or neglect, deprivation, substance abuse problems or exposure to violence.
One in five had two or more such experiences. These children were more than twice as likely to have chronic health conditions and were more than two-and-a-half times more likely to have repeated a grade in school. The researchers also found that children who learned resiliency skills — such as the capacity to stay calm and in control when faced with a challenge — had mitigated negative effects, including being much more likely to be engaged in school (Health Affairs, December).
Using the 2011–12 National Survey of Children’s Health, we assessed the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences and associations between them and factors affecting children’s development and lifelong health.
After we adjusted for confounding factors, we found lower rates of school engagement and higher rates of chronic disease among children with adverse childhood experiences.
Our findings suggest that building resilience—defined in the survey as “staying calm and in control when faced with a challenge,” for children ages 6–17—can ameliorate the negative impact of adverse childhood experiences.
We found higher rates of school engagement among children with adverse childhood experiences who demonstrated resilience, as well as higher rates of resilience among children with such experiences who received care in a family-centered medical home.
We recommend a coordinated effort to fill knowledge gaps and translate existing knowledge about adverse childhood experiences and resilience into national, state, and local policies, with a focus on addressing childhood trauma in health systems as they evolve during ongoing reform.