Almost Half of US Kids Exposed to Violence, Traumatic Situations in Their Homes

This is truly shocking.

Almost half the kids in this country have been exposed to violence or a traumatic situation in their families in their childhoods.

According to, nearly 50% of all children in the United States are exposed to at least one social or family experience that can lead to traumatic stress and have an impact on their healthy development – be it having their parents divorce, a parent die or living with someone who abuses alcohol or drugs – increasing the risk of negative long-term health consequences or of falling behind in school, suggests new research led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

 Growing up, parents were expected to hit their kids, some with belts, others (like my mom) with whatever was handy!  And we've all heard the outcry, right or wrong, against Adrian Peterson.  Today we know better, supposedly.  But looking at the results of this study, clearly, it still happens.

 The good news is, maybe we're handling it better, as a society.  The study reports on new data showing the magnitude of these adverse experiences in the child population in the U.S., while also suggesting that training parents, providers and communities to help children with trauma cope and build even basic aspects of resilience may soften the blows and lead to later success, despite the obstacles.

 "This study tells us that adverse childhood experiences are common among U.S. children and, as demonstrated in adult studies, have lifelong impacts that begin early in life,” says study leader Christina D. Bethell, PhD, MPH, MBA, a professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The survey of almost 10,000 children under 17 included questions about extreme economic hardship, parental divorce/separation, living with someone with a drug or alcohol problem, been a witness or victim of neighborhood violence, living with someone who was mentally ill or suicidal, witnessing domestic violence, having a parent who served time in jail, was treated or judged unfairly due to race/ethnicity, and the death of a parent. The survey also included data on family and neighborhood environments and parental well-bein, in addition to children’s schooling and medical care.

The study found that more than 22 percent of children represented in the survey had two or more of these traumatic childhood experiences. Broken down by state, Utah had the lowest number of children experiencing two or more traumatic experiences (16.3 percent) while Oklahoma had the highest (32.8 percent).

Researchers found that children with two or more adverse experiences were more than 2.5-times more likely to repeat a grade in school as well as be disengaged in school, compared to those without any traumatic experiences, and after adjusting for factors such as race, income and health status.

Children with these experiences were also much more likely to have a wide range of chronic health problems, including asthma, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, obesity and other health and risk factors. Children with adverse childhood experiences were also less likely than those without to live in a protective home environment and have mothers who were healthy.

But, not surprisingly, kids who had had two or more adverse experiences who already have a chronic condition requiring regular doctor visits showed one aspect of resilience, probably because there was someone outside the family aiding them.  Those who had access to any kind of help were 1.5-times more likely to be engaged in school and nearly half as likely to repeat a grade in school compared to those who had not learned this skill.

And children and families who received quality health care from a doctor who knows, listens to and ensures children’s whole health care needs are met and coordinated did better than those who did not.

So where do we go from here?  Schools and churches and synagogues may be able to reach out when seeing children struggling with home issues.  It should be one of our most important goals to help kids get over, and through, their troubling family situations.



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