One in five children in Douglas County is estimated to have experienced childhood trauma, defined as exposure to three or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) which include child abuse or neglect, parental mental illness, substance abuse, incarceration, divorce, and domestic violence. ACEs were first identified in a Kaiser Permanente and Centers for Disease Control study in the 1990s, which connected later-life health consequences with adverse experiences in childhood. These experiences put children at high risk for lifelong physical and mental health problems and can be transmitted to their own children. When this trauma, also known as toxic stress, happens to very young children (birth to age 5), it impairs the brain during the period when ninety percent of development occurs, creating learning and behavioral challenges that can last a lifetime.
The 2016 National Survey of Children's Health found that 38 percent of children in every state have at least one ACE, and 24 percent of Kansas children have two or more. The Kansas Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey in 2014 and 2015 reported that 20.9 percent of adults had three or more ACEs. We use the 20 percent (one in five) estimate because research demonstrates that parental ACEs impact children even when the children do not have these experiences themselves. While ACEs are universal across all income and racial groupings, they are more prevalent among children from low-income families and also among Hispanic and African-American children. Three to five-year-olds with two or more ACEs are four times more likely to have trouble calming themselves, be easily distracted and have difficulty making and keeping friends. These behaviors not only limit the child's learning and healthy development, they also disrupt classrooms and negatively impact other children's ability to learn and have positive school experiences.