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Learn More About Childhood Adversity and Resilience

Measures of Childhood Adversity and Resilience on Kidsdata.org
Childhood adversity and resilience measures on kidsdata.org originate from three separate data sources and provide a rich and conceptually-related perspective on childhood adversity. Taken together, they present a broad framework to look at child adversity across the lifespan and provide useful data to inform and facilitate interventions. However, due to differences in methodology, data from the three sources should not be compared. The data sources are:

Each of these separate data sources produces at least one overall index of childhood adversity. An overall index should be viewed as a more comprehensive measure than any one of its individual items alone because it captures the cumulative magnitude of experiencing hardships.
NSCH data were collected by the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NSCH uses a set of family, economic, and community adversity indicators to ask parents about current adverse experiences to which their children (ages 0 to 17) have been exposed. This is the most direct population-based survey measure of adversity among California children because it asks parents about the trauma their children have experienced while they are still children, compared to the more traditional methods of asking adults to recall their childhood experiences.

MIHA is a collaborative effort of the Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Division and the Women, Infant and Children Division of the California Department of Public Health and the Center on Social Disparities in Health at the University of California, San Francisco. The MIHA survey asks postpartum women (15 years and older) who delivered a live birth about their own childhood hardships prior to age 14.

The BRFSS ACEs Module was adapted from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These data are based on adult recollections of their childhood experiences during the first 17 years of life and, thus, these retrospective data do not provide direct information about the current status of California’s children.

NSCH, MIHA, and BRFSS data, together, provide a comprehensive framework for understanding and addressing child adversity across the lifespan. Among these three data sources, the NSCH indicators are the most contemporary because they tap into parents’ views of their children’s current experiences. MIHA adds an intergenerational perspective by providing information about the childhood hardships experienced by mothers of newborns. BRFSS provides a well-established standard measure of adult retrospective reports of adverse childhood experiences. Both NSCH and MIHA include a wider range of potentially adverse experiences, such as exposure to extreme poverty, community violence, and food and housing insecurity, whereas the BRFSS ACEs Module focuses primarily on family dysfunction. Each source provides a unique but conceptually-related perspective on childhood adversity.
Childhood Adversity and Resilience
Characteristics of Children with Special Needs
Child Abuse and Neglect
Family Structure
Food Security
Intimate Partner Violence
Housing Affordability
Foster Care
Why This Topic Is Important
Childhood adversity—such as child abuse, exposure to violence, family alcohol or drug abuse, and poverty—can have negative, long-term impacts on health and well being (1, 2). Nearly half of U.S. children have experienced at least one adverse childhood event (3). Early experiences affect brain structure and function, which provide the foundation for learning, emotional development, behavior, and health (4). The toxic stress associated with traumatic, and often cumulative, early adverse experiences can disrupt healthy development and lead to behavioral, emotional, school, and health problems during childhood and adolescence (2, 3, 5, 6). It also can lead to serious behavioral, emotional, and health issues in adulthood, such as chronic diseases, obesity, alcohol and other substance abuse, and depression (1, 2, 3). The more traumatic and toxic events experienced by a child, the more likely the impact will be substantial and long-lasting (7).

Resilience, an adaptive response to hardship, can mitigate the effects of adverse childhood experiences (6, 8). It is a process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, threats, or other significant sources of stress. Resilience involves a combination of internal and external factors. Internally, it involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. Resilience is also strengthened by having safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments within and outside the family (6, 8, 9).
For more information on childhood adversity and resilience, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). About adverse childhood experiences. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about_ace.html

2.  Shonkoff, J. P., et al. (2012). The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics, 129(1), e232-e246. Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/1/e232

3.  Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. (2014). 4 essential facts about lifelong health, school success and adverse childhood experiences among California’s children. Retrieved from: http://childhealthdata.org/docs/presentations-/californiadata.pdf?Status=Master

4.  The Center for the Developing Child. (n.d.). Brain architecture. Retrieved from: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture

5.  Moore, K., et al. (2014). Adverse childhood experiences and the well-being of adolescents. Child Trends. Retrieved from: http://www.childtrends.org/?publications=fact-sheet-adverse-childhood-experiences-and-the-well-being-of-adolescents

6.  Bethell, C. D., et al. (2015). Adverse childhood experiences: Assessing the impact on health and school engagement and the mitigating role of resilience. Health Affairs, 33(12), 2106-2115. Retrieved from: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/33/12/2106

7.  Center for Youth Wellness. (2014). A hidden crisis: Findings on adverse childhood experiences in California. Retrieved from: https://app.box.com/s/nf7lw36bjjr5kdfx4ct9

8.  The Center for the Developing Child. (2015). The science of resilience. Retrieved from: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-the-science-of-resilience

9.  Pinderhughes, H., et al. (2015). Adverse community experiences and resilience: A framework for addressing and preventing community trauma. Prevention Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.preventioninstitute.org/publications/adverse-community-experiences-and-resilience-framework-addressing-and-preventing
How Children Are Faring
Childhood adversity is common among California children, and many children experience multiple traumatic and negative events. The most timely assessment of childhood resilience and adversity comes from the National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH), in which parents report on the current status of their children. NSCH data from 2011-2012 show that 67% of California children were usually or always resilient while 18% of children experienced two or more adverse childhood events. According to the 2011-2012 Maternal and Infant Health Assessment (MIHA), 24% of postpartum women in California experienced two or more childhood hardships before age 14. The California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Module, combining data from 2008 to 2013, shows that 17% of adults in households with children experienced at least four ACEs before age 18.
The percentage of postpartum women who experienced two or more childhood hardships varies by poverty level and maternal age. According to 2011-2012 MIHA data, among poor women (i.e., those with family incomes up through 100% of the Federal Poverty Guideline), 32% experienced two or more hardships as children, compared with 17% of higher-income women (i.e., those with family incomes over 200% of the Federal Poverty Guideline). Furthermore, one-third of young mothers 15-19 years old experienced two or more hardship as children (33%), compared with one-fifth of mothers 35 years old and older (20%).
Policy Implications
In recent years, policymakers, researchers, and advocates increasingly have focused on childhood adversity (e.g., physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver alcohol or drug abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship), recognizing that such experiences can have harmful, lifelong consequences (1, 2). For example, children exposed to multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are more likely to develop negative health behaviors and chronic diseases in adulthood (1). Unaddressed ACEs place strain on public systems, including child welfare, education, health care, and juvenile justice (1). Policymakers have a role in helping to prevent ACEs, as well as in ensuring early identification and intervention for parents and children affected by trauma. While California has made strides in these areas, continued efforts are needed to ensure that all families have the opportunity to help their children thrive and reach their full potential (1, 3).

Policy and program options to help prevent, interrupt, and mitigate the effects of childhood adversity include:
  • Raising public awareness about ACEs and their negative, lasting effects on children and families (1)
  • Ensuring effective prevention services are in place, including strength-based parenting education, family support, and home-visiting services for families in need (4)
  • Promoting policies that help reduce family stress and increase stability for children, e.g., policies to improve the social safety net for families in need, support family-friendly business practices, and ensure quality child care is affordable and accessible (4)
  • Promoting policies and practices to institutionalize “trauma-informed approaches” for public and private systems and organizations (designed specifically to address the consequences of trauma and facilitate resilience and healing), including screening and intervention with health reimbursement mechanisms (1, 3)
  • Supporting formal workforce education about ACEs and trauma-informed policies and practices for professionals who work with families and children, such as administrators, doctors, nurses, educators, social workers, and juvenile justice staff (1, 3)
  • Promoting increased collaboration across organizations and systems (e.g., local and state government, education, health care, juvenile justice, child welfare, and nonprofits) to address systemic barriers to preventing or treating trauma and toxic stress including improving service coordination, sharing data, and aligning measures of success (1, 4)
  • Supporting ongoing strategies to provide accessible, culturally competent, trauma-informed, and resilience-building systems of mental health, substance abuse treatment, and other community services (1, 3, 5)
  • Expanding data collection related to ACEs and resilience to study and advance effective interventions aimed at preventing and reducing the impacts of trauma on children, families, organizations, systems, and communities (1, 3)
For more information related to ACEs, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section or visit the Center for Youth Wellness, the ACEs Connection Network, and the Prevention Institute. Also see Policy Implications in kidsdata.org's Child and Youth Safety and Emotional and Behavioral Health topics.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Center for Youth Wellness. (2015). Children can thrive: A vision for California’s response to adverse childhood experiences. Retrieved from: https://app.box.com/s/fd9gnls5rsswzo2biepbfiz8m23jy1uk

2.  Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. (2014). 4 essential facts about lifelong health, school success and adverse childhood experiences among California’s children. Retrieved from: http://childhealthdata.org/docs/presentations-/californiadata.pdf?Status=Master

3.  Bradshaw, J. (2015). Helping children heal: Promising community programs and policy recommendations. Children's Defense Fund - California. Retrieved from: http://www.cdfca.org/library/publications/2015/helping-children-heal.pdf

4.  National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2014). Essentials for childhood: Steps to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childmaltreatment/essentials.html

5.  California Department of Social Services, & California Department of Health Care Services. (n.d.). Pathways to mental health services: Core practice model guide. Retrieved from: https://humanservices.ucdavis.edu/programs/resource-center-family-focused-practice/pathways-mental-health-services/pathways
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Childhood Adversity and Resilience