A new study led by Institute of Child Development professor Arthur Reynolds suggests people who experience four or more traumatic events, known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), are significantly less likely to graduate from high school, which is a leading indicator of lifelong health. The study in the April 2016 issue of Pediatrics, “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Well-Being in a Low-Income, Urban Cohort,” followed 1,202 economically disadvantaged, minority participants who attended kindergarten in Chicago Public Schools and responded to periodic surveys about family and school experiences throughout childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood.
ACEs that participants were asked about included whether they had been a victim of violent crime; had witnessed a shooting or stabbing; experienced the death of a family member, friend, or relative; or had frequent family conflict, prolonged absence or divorce of their parents, or substance abuse by a parent. In addition to education level, these experiences also affected occupational prestige, criminal activity, health-compromising behaviors, and mental health by the time participants reached age 26.
Reynolds said the study, funded with National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and National Science Foundation grants, showed that the harmful effect of ACEs extend above and beyond socio-economic status. Early childhood programs can buffer the negative effects of early, traumatic experiences and should be more widely available, he added.