Adversity in Childhood Can Have Lifelong Repercussions


Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and other traumatic events in a child's life can cause toxic stress and lifelong negative health outcomes like chronic disease and depression. And they are, unfortunately, all too common. But we can help ensure their effects don't follow children into adulthood, and we can reduce harm for the next generation.

What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

ACEs include adversities such as:

  • Separation or divorce of parents or guardians
  • Death of a parent or guardian or incarceration of a household member
  • Mental illness or substance abuse in the household
  • Witnessing or experiencing violence in the home or community
  • Physical, verbal, or sexual abuse
  • Material or emotional neglect
  • Financial hardship
  • Discrimination due to race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity

How Do Childhood Adversities Impact Health?

Early adverse experiences can alter children's brain structure and function, which provide the foundation for learning, emotional development, and behavior.

Without healthy relationships and environments to buffer against adversity, toxic stress can disrupt a child's healthy development and lead to physical, mental, and social problems throughout childhood and adolescence. In adulthood, ACEs are associated with heart disease, cancer, obesity, substance abuse, suicide attempts, and other serious health concerns.

The more traumatic childhood events a person experiences, the more likely the impact will be substantial and lasting, both for themselves and for subsequent generations.

Take Action, California!

Explore's indicators and topical summary, identify disparities in your community, and take action.

  • Get involved: Join a local coalition to address conditions that contribute to childhood adversity, or find an event to learn more about ACEs.
  • Support protective factors: Strengthen family financial security, increase social connectedness in communities, and improve children's play areas, school readiness, and neighborhood safety.
  • Help break the cycle: Reduce stigma around help-seeking for depression, substance misuse, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and parenting challenges.
  • Improve monitoring: Expand data collection in surveys and screenings for ACEs in clinical settings.
  • Identify and care for toxic stress: Enhance supportive relationships, promote evidence-based mindfulness practices and everyday healthy activities, and provide mental and behavioral health care when needed.

Learn More

In June 2022, KidsData and the California Department of Public Health's Essentials for Childhood (EfC) Initiative hosted a webinar exploring data on the prevalence of ACEs among California adults.

Watch the recording below or view the webinar slides.


Read PRB's summaries of recent research:

Find more research on childhood adversity at PACEs Connection.

Explore resources from the California EfC Initiative, the Office of the California Surgeon General, and the ACEs Aware initiative.

Clinicians can participate in free online trainings and join the effort to screen for ACEs and provide trauma-informed care.

Childhood Adversity Indicators

Data come from four reputable sources and are available for sub-state regions and across many demographic groups.

National Survey of Children's Health

Family Experiences During the COVID-19 Pandemic

California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

Maternal and Infant Health Assessment


Bhushan, D., et al. (2020). Roadmap for resilience: The California Surgeon General's report on adverse childhood experiences, toxic stress, and health. Office of the California Surgeon General. Retrieved from:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Adverse childhood experiences prevention strategy. Retrieved from: