Center for American Progress

RELEASE: More Than 1 in 4 American Children Experience Adversity, Driven Most by Economic Hardship
Press Release

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new multiyear analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s National Survey of Children’s Health. This analysis identifies the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) among children between the ages of 0 and 3, what disparities exist among different groups of children, and what forms of ACE are most common. The report also includes a 50-state assessment on the prevalence of ACEs across states. The analysis relies on data from 2016 to 2018.

Exposure to adversity can have a lasting, lifelong impact on children’s physical, emotional, and social well-being. ACEs studied in the analysis include economic hardship; parental divorce or separation; living with someone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs; parental incarceration or death; and presence of physical violence, among others. Key findings from the report include:

  • Twenty percent of young children have experienced at least one ACE, and 8 percent of young children have experienced two or more.
  • Economic hardship is the most common form of adversity; about 1 in 5 young children live in a family that has struggled to cover basic needs such as food or housing.
  • Vast racial and ethnic disparities exist among children’s exposure to adversity. Hispanic, Black, and non-Hispanic other children more commonly experience ACEs, with the latter two groups at roughly twice the rate of young white children.
  • Significant racial disparities are also seen within different types of ACEs.
  • Among states, Oklahoma has the smallest percentage of young children who have not experienced any ACE, with nearly half of children having experienced at least one ACE and more than 1 in 5 children having experienced at least two ACEs. Massachusetts leads the nation in its percentage of young children who have not suffered ACEs—82 percent—with just 3 percent of children having experienced two or more ACEs.

The report also includes a series of recommendations to address early childhood adversity, including:

  • Implement and expand strategies that reduce the likelihood of early adversity such as providing paid family and medical leave and high-quality, affordable child care so that parents can care for their and their family’s health and remain connected to the workforce.
  • Increase the availability and accessibility of evidence-based services such as home visiting and infant mental health and early intervention services.
  • Increase funding for affordable child care by scaling investments in the Child Care Development Block Grant and Head Start.
  • Develop culturally and developmentally appropriate tools to capture adversity data by partnering with community-based groups.
  • Fund high-quality, disaggregated longitudinal research on childhood adversity.

“This analysis provides critical context for policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders as the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis cause adverse childhood experiences to surge as unemployment, poverty, and death spike. Reining in these experiences is critical to stemming multigenerational poverty, incarceration, and creating safe environments for kids and parents to thrive,” said Taryn Morrissey, senior fellow for Early Childhood Education Policy at CAP and co-author of the report.

Please click here to read: “Adversity in Early Childhood: The Role of Policy in Creating and Addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences” by Cristina Novoa and Taryn Morrissey

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Colin Seeberger at [email protected].