Adverse Childhood Experiences and Complex Health Concerns among Child Welfare-involved Children

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Graduate School of Social Work


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), Child welfare, Public health


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) contribute to public health concerns, as they have been linked to chronic diseases in adulthood. From the seminal ACEs study in the mid-1990s (Felitti et al., 1998) to today, the Centers for Disease Control (2016) reports well over 50 studies that link ACEs to adult health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and mental illness. This preponderance of evidence has prompted widespread attention to the possibility that preventing and successfully treating ACE-associated traumatic stress would greatly reduce our country’s incidence of chronic disease and the associated public health burden and cost (Danese et al., 2009). To illustrate, one study suggests that child abuse and neglect alone costs the United States $124 billion annually, with individual lifetime costs that are higher than or equal to the economic burden of diabetes and stroke (Fang, Brown, Florence, & Mercy, 2012). That child maltreatment is just one category of 10 total ACEs suggests that the total financial impact of ACEs in the United States is likely much greater and that some populations, such as children involved in child welfare, may be disproportionately affected by the negative effects of adverse childhood experiences.

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