News Line

Communications > News Line > Posts > New Report Shows High Prevalence of Adverse Experiences among Children: What Does it Mean for Alabama?

Submitted by : Ellen Abell, Extension specialist, Family and Child Development.

Children who experience major, potentially traumatic events in early childhood have an increased risk of poor social and academic outcomes in adolescence. The effects of these early adverse experiences are also connected with an increased risk of poor lifelong health.

A new report from Child Trends shows that the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences varies dramatically across the states. Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children at all stages of development, Bottom of Form

analyzed data from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children's Health, which consisted of interviews of more than 95,000 adults about a child in their household, to find out about the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences nationwide and for each state in the U.S

Researchers looked at eight adverse childhood experiences included in the national survey. These included:

  • economic hardship
  • having a parent or guardian was separated or divorced
  • living with someone with alcohol or drug problems
  • living with someone who was mentally ill, suicidal, or depressed
  • being a victim of or witness to neighborhood violence
  • witnessing domestic violence in the home;
  • having a parent or guardian who had spent time incarcerated
  • living with a parent or guardian who died

In most states, including Alabama, the most common adverse childhood experience was economic hardship (meaning it was often difficult for families to cover food or housing costs on their income level). Nationally, 26 percent of children experienced economic hardship, while 29 percent of Alabama children experienced this. Divorce or separation of parents or guardians, the second most common adverse experience, was experienced by 23 percent of children in Alabama.

In two other commonly occurring adverse experiences, 11 percent of Alabama children lived with a family member who had problems with alcohol/ or drugs, while 10 percent lived with a family member who was mentally ill, suicidal or severely depressed for more than a couple weeks.

More than half of Alabama children (52 percent) have experienced at least one adverse experience, 40 percent have experienced one to two, and 12 percent have experienced three or more. Based on 2013 U.S. Census Bureau estimates of Alabama's population of children under age 18, more than 133,400 children in our state have experienced three or more of these negative major life experiences.

Knowing these numbers is important, because adverse childhood experiences are connected to behaviors, health and well-being later in adolescence and even into adulthood. For example, national data tell us that 41 percent of adolescents experiencing three or more harmful childhood life events showed negative behaviors toward others, often in the form of bullying or cruelty, compared with 18 percent of adolescents experiencing none. Similar proportions of adolescents with a history of three or more adverse experiences demonstrated lower school engagement, had problems at school, were diagnosed with a learning disability, and had poorer physical and emotional health than children without such a history. In adulthood, the effects of early adverse experience show up in the form of higher risk of obesity, alcoholism and depression.

"The good news," said Dr. Ellen Abell, a family and child development specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, "is that we know how to reduce the likelihood of a child having these adverse experiences. Mutually supportive adult-couple relationships and tuned-in, responsive adult-child relationships are important sources of resilience that can protect children from these lousy outcomes. Through Alabama Extension's community-based family life education programing, the relationship skills that support positive growth and learning can be learned at any age."

For more information on Extension family and child development go to:


Sherrie Jacobs

3/31/2015 12:33 AM
Hi, I am writing a research paper on Adverse Childhood Experiences in Alabama and I am having a hard time coming up with numbers on the amount of funding Alabama allows to combat this issue. I was wondering if you have any information that may help me with this, also I would appreciate any links or other information you may have on the subject.