Childhood Trauma

What is Childhood Trauma?

You can tell when a kid is in trouble. While you might not understand the reasons behind their responses, you know that aggression, withdrawal, self-harm and other destructive behaviors all point to a young person in pain.

These behaviors typically point to a young person who's experienced Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). ACEs are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect.

Father talking to daughter on bed-1

About Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Traumatic events, also known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), can have many profound effects on childhood development. Not only can prolonged exposure to trauma interrupt a child’s physical and mental growth, but high doses of adversity have been shown to change the brain’s architecture and responses to stress. If left untreated, these changes can result in unshakable feelings of terror, depression, and helplessness.

When a child is exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences, there is no doubt that the trauma will bear some effect on them. Instead, the question is how deeply they will be affected by adversity.

Idaho Youth Ranch is here to help young people, ages 9 through 24, overcome these difficult experiences by transforming pain into strength, fear into confidence, and trauma into resilience. Get help for a child today. 

Idaho ACEs Data

There's a lot of things that can cause trauma. About 20 years ago, doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente discovered something that changed the way we think about childhood experiences. They asked 17,000 people 10 questions. They all started with "Before your 18th birthday, did you experience..." and questioned people about a list of adverse experiences, including various types of abuse, neglect, and violence. Calculate your ACE score now.  

The results of the study showed ACEs are common. About 61% of adults surveyed from 25 states reported that they had experienced at least one type of ACE, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs. 

Idahoans are certainly no strangers to Adverse Childhood Experiences. Based on data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Idahoans are more likely to have experienced 4 or more ACEs than the average American. 

prevalence of ACEs-1education and income-1

Based on this data, the more ACEs an Idahoan has the more likely they are to live below the poverty line and less likely they are to have an income of $75k plus. Additionally,  the more ACEs an Idahoan has, the less likely they are to graduate college. Unsurprisingly, childhood trauma can have serious, lasting impacts on mental health. Take a look at this data about Idahoans and poor mental health days, as well as suicide attempts. 

suicide attempts and poor mental health-1

 ACEs can also lead to substance abuse as well. The following graphs show how ACEs can increase the likelihood of a person binge drinking or using marijuana. 

Health Impacts of ACEs

Stress is a normal part of life and growing up. However, there are different types of stress which can affect a developing brain in different ways. There are three different types of stress: 

  • Positive stress, like starting a new job, is normal and causes a healthy stress response in the face of tense situations.
  • Tolerable stress is more significant and typically has a long lasting effect caused by a more serious situation, like the loss of a family member. While this kind of stress can be very challenging, it is typically considered tolerable because of the support system someone has in place to help them cope.
  • Toxic stress is the prolonged activation of the body's stress response to frequent and intense situations, like repeatedly witnessing violence in the home or community.

Behavioral Impacts of ACEs

Trauma can have a profound impact on a young person's life, causing them to behave in ways that are out of character. The effects of trauma can manifest themselves in a multitude of ways, including sudden outbursts of anger, mood swings, and a withdrawal from social situations. A young person who has experienced trauma may also find themselves drawn to a new group of friends or may become unrecognizable to those who know them best.

ACEs research has shown us that prolonged exposure to trauma can lead to toxic stress, which can exacerbate these observable issues. While stress can be a useful coping mechanism for someone who is facing adversity, unregulated doses of toxic stress can be detrimental to a young person's mental and emotional health. It's important to recognize the signs of trauma so that we can provide the necessary support and interventions to help them heal and recover.

Educational Impacts of ACEs

Children who have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) report higher instances of having problems in school. These experiences have a significant impact on a child's overall well-being and development, including their academic performance. Research shows that children who have experienced ACEs are more likely to have problems in school than those who have not.

According to a 2015 publication by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, instances of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction occurring before the age of 18 can disrupt brain development and limit one’s social, emotional, and cognitive functioning.  ACEs can disrupt brain development, limit cognitive functioning, and impair social and emotional skills. Consequently, children who have experienced ACEs may have difficulty concentrating in class, forming relationships with teachers and peers, regulating their emotions, and managing stress. These challenges can lead to poor academic performance and decreased engagement in school.

Research has found a strong correlation between students' ACE scores and academic performance. Children with an ACE score of 3 or higher are 32 times more likely to struggle in school than those with a lower ACE score. This means that children who have experienced multiple traumatic events in childhood are more likely to struggle academically than those who have experienced fewer traumatic events.

The effects of ACEs on academic performance can be long-lasting. Children who have experienced ACEs may have lower levels of academic achievement and educational attainment compared to their peers. They may also be at a higher risk of dropping out of school, engaging in risky behaviors, and experiencing mental health problems.

To address the impact of ACEs on academic performance, it is essential to create a supportive and nurturing environment in schools. This includes providing trauma-informed care, offering mental health services, and implementing policies and practices that support students who have experienced trauma. By recognizing and addressing the effects of ACEs on academic performance, we can help children overcome the challenges they face and reach their full potential in school and beyond.

(Harris, 2017).

Juvenile Crime and ACEs

By affecting normal, adolescent development, trauma can cause a multitude of physical, mental, and behavioral consequences. With this, it is perhaps not surprising that researchers have found a significant correlation between juvenile crime and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

For example, in a 2017 study by Hanie Edalati of the Université de Montréal, criminal involvement rates were found to be significantly higher among those with a history of ACEs. Also according to this study, juvenile offenders are not only four times more likely to report an ACE score of 4 or higher, but they are 13 times less likely to report an ACE score of 0. 

ACEs can include various forms of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction, and they can have lasting effects on the physical and mental health of individuals, as well as their behavior. This can lead to a higher likelihood of criminal activity among those who have experienced ACEs.

It is crucial to address and prevent ACEs to reduce the risk of negative outcomes in individuals' lives, including criminal behavior. By providing resources and support to those who have experienced trauma, it is possible to help them overcome the effects of ACEs and live healthy, fulfilling lives.

Societal Cost of Childhood Trauma

With nearly 67% of adults having faced at least one Adverse Childhood Experience, it's easy see how trauma has become a public health crisis. As a result, this trauma not only affects individual people on mental, physical, and emotional levels— it affects everyone, and it's taking a huge toll on our society.

The long-term economic costs of childhood trauma can be significant, with impacts on healthcare costs, lost productivity, and criminal justice system involvement. Individuals who have experienced childhood trauma are more likely to have chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, which can result in increased healthcare costs. Additionally, childhood trauma can impact an individual's ability to function in the workplace, resulting in lost productivity and income. Finally, individuals who have experienced childhood trauma are at an increased risk of involvement with the criminal justice system, resulting in further economic costs.

Childhood trauma can also have intergenerational impacts, with trauma experienced by one generation impacting the mental and physical health of subsequent generations. Individuals who have experienced childhood trauma may be more likely to rely on social services, such as welfare and healthcare, which can result in increased costs for society as a whole.

Preventing childhood trauma and addressing the impacts of trauma is critical for reducing the economic costs. Early intervention and treatment can help mitigate the long-term impacts of trauma, reducing healthcare costs, and improving productivity. 


-Dr. Robert Block, former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics. 


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