Adverse Childhood Experiences

Challenging experiences, such as death, divorce or separation of parents, witnessing violence, and living with someone with mental health or substance abuse problems can undermine a child’s emotional health and overall well-being. Parents were asked about 9 specific adverse experiences which the child may have experienced in his or her lifetime:

  1. how often it was very hard to get by on the family’s income,
  2. whether the child experienced the divorce/ separation of parents,
  3. whether the child experienced the death of a parent,
  4. whether a parent served time in jail,
  5. whether the child witnessed domestic violence,
  6. whether the child was a victim of neighborhood violence,
  7. whether the child lived with someone who was mentally ill or suicidal,
  8. whether the child lived with someone with alcohol/drug problem, and
  9. whether the child was treated or judged unfairly due to their race or ethnicity.

Overall, 52.1 percent of children had experienced none of these adverse experiences, 25.3 percent experienced one, and 22.6 percent had experienced two or more. Because these measures cover the entire life course, the percentage of older children who have had adverse experiences in their lifetimes is greater than the percentage of younger children. Of adolescents aged 12-17 years, 56.5 percent had faced one of more adverse childhood experiences, compared to 50.2 percent of children aged 6-11 years and 36.6 percent of those aged 0-5 years.

Children in lower-income households were also more likely to confront one or more adverse childhood events. Of children with household incomes below the Federal poverty level (FPL), two-thirds were reported to have had one or more adverse childhood event, compared to 59.0 percent of children with household incomes between 100 and 199 percent of the FPL, 45.1 percent of children with household incomes between 200 and 399 percent of the FPL, and 27.2 percent of children with household incomes of 400 percent of the FPL or more.

The adverse experience most common among children was economic insecurity; the parents of one-quarter of children reported that it was hard to get by on the family’s income very or somewhat often. Divorce was the second most common adverse experience, affecting 20.1 percent of children. Fewer than 10 percent of children were reported to have faced each of the other adverse experiences.