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Majority of Californians Have Experienced Early Childhood Adversity, Trauma, New Report Reveals

November 05, 2014

New report details county-by-county data and calls for solutions to reduce impact on Californians’ health and wellbeing

A first-of-its-kind report released today by the Center for Youth Wellness details the long-term and far-reaching consequences of childhood exposure to trauma and chronic adversity. The report, released in partnership with the Public Health Institute, highlights serious implications for the state’s public health and healthcare systems, and calls for solutions.

Nearly two-thirds of Californians have experienced at least one or more types of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)—such as abuse, neglect or household dysfunction—withone in six exposed to four or more adverse experiences, according to the new report. "A Hidden Crisis: Findings on Adverse Childhood Experiences in California" details the strong correlation between childhood exposure to adversity and trauma with poor health, behavioral and social outcomes later in life. The report also identified the prevalence of ACEs in counties across California.

“California is facing a major public health crisis that until now has gone largely unaddressed – children’s exposure to trauma and adversity,” said Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness. “The science is clear: early adversity dramatically affects health across a lifetime, but this public health crisis is both treatable and beatable. We have the knowledge and resources to reduce morbidity and mortality, and make a real difference in the lives of children and adults across the state.”

ACEs are traumatic experiences that have a profound impact on a child’s developing brain and body. Chronic exposure to ACEs can lead to toxic stress and lasting consequences on a person’s health throughout his or her lifetime. ACEs measured in the study include physical, emotional and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; and household dysfunctions such as mental illness, family member incarceration, domestic violence, substance abuse and divorce.

“This first-of-its-kind report illustrates the long-term and far-reaching consequences of ACEs on California adults,” said Mary A. Pittman, President and CEO of the Public Health Institute. “Childhood exposure to adversity, such as abuse and neglect, is linked to disease, depression and other health risks. Addressing childhood trauma isn’t just a moral mandate, it’s a health imperative—for our children today, and for the adults they will become.”

The report is an analysis of surveys of 27,545 adults conducted in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013 by the California Department of Public Health. It will be shared with more than 200 policy and nonprofit leaders, medical and health professionals, and education and child welfare advocates convened for "Children Can Thrive: California's Response to Adverse Childhood Experiences," “a first-ever statewide summit on the issue hosted in San Francisco by the Center for Youth Wellness. The two-day summit on November 6 and 7 is bringing together national, state and local leaders to share solutions and develop a common agenda to reduce the impact of ACEs.

The report found that, compared to people with no ACEs, those reporting four or more ACEs are more likely to face greater physical and mental health, social, and economic challenges. Among other outcomes, the study’s key findings indicate that they are:


  • 2.4 times as likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; 1.9 times as likely to have asthma; 1.7 times as likely to have kidney disease; and 1.5 times as likely to have a stroke.
  • 5.1 times as likely to suffer from depression, and 4.2 times as likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • 2.9 times as likely to currently smoke, 3.2 times as likely to engage in binge drinking, and 3.3 times as likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.
  • Nearly 12 times as likely to be the victim of sexual violence (or forced sexual encounters) after the age of 18.
  • 21 percent more likely to be below 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level; 27 percent more likely to lack a college degree, and 39 percent more likely to be unemployed.
  • 50 percent more likely to lack health insurance.
  • 13 times as likely to have been removed from their home as children.

The report also details county-by-county findings, making it apparent that ACEs touch every community in California. Even in counties with the lowest prevalence of ACEs, one out of every two people has had at least one adverse experience in childhood. The highest prevalence rates of adults reporting four or more ACEs are found in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties combined (30.8 percent) and Butte County (30.3 percent), while the lowest prevalence rates of adults with four or more ACEs are found in San Francisco County (9 percent) and Santa Clara County (11 percent).

Among the state’s five most populous counties, Riverside County has the highest prevalence of residents with four or more ACEs (19.5 percent), followed by San Bernardino County (19.4 percent), San Diego County (14.5 percent), Orange County (14.2 percent), and Los Angeles County (13.5 percent).

The report calls on the state to promote the health and success of California’s children and families by: increasing awareness of the impact of ACEs on health and wellness; increasing access to health care, including mental health services, for all Californians; supporting promising solutions at the state and local levels to identify and intervene early; and continuing to collect state-level data on the prevalence of ACEs.



Media Contact: Bilen Mesfin Packwood, bilen@change-lic.com, (510) 681- 5978 (cell)


About the Center for Youth Wellness

The Center for Youth Wellness (CYW) believes that health begins with hope. CYW is a health organization imbedded with a primary care pediatric home serving children and families in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. CYW was founded to respond to an urgent public health issue: early adversity harms the developing brains and bodies of children. Through clinical programs, research, community education and policy advocacy, CYW seeks to transform the way society responds to children exposed to significant Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress.

For more information, visit the Center for Youth Wellness website.  


About the Public Health Institute

The Public Health Institute, an independent nonprofit organization, is dedicated to promoting health, well-being and quality of life for people throughout California, across the nation and around the world.