The Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) in the Lives of Juvenile Offenders

The Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) in the Lives of Juvenile Offenders

Baglivio, Michael T., Kimberly Swartz, Mona Sayedul Huq, Amy Sheer, and Nancy S. Hardt. “The Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) in the Lives of Juvenile Offenders.” OJJDP Journal of Juvenile Justice 3, no. 2 (Spring 2014): 1–23.

Summary: "Florida study confirms link between juvenile offenders, ACEs; rates much higher than CDC's ACE Study" (From Aces Too High)

IMPORTANT DATA AND TAKEAWAYS

From the Abstract:
This study examines the prevalence of ACEs in a population of 64,329 juvenile offenders in Florida. This article reports the prevalence of each ACE and assigns an ACE composite score across genders and a risk to reoffend level classification, and compares these with ACE studies conducted on adults. Analyses indicate offenders report disturbingly high rates of ACEs and have higher composite scores than previously examined populations. Policy implications underline the need to screen for and address ACEs as early as possible to prevent reoffending and other well-documented sequelae.

ACE Prevalence
The top three most prevalent ACE indicators were the same for both males and females: family violence, parental separation or divorce, and household member incarceration. Two-thirds or more of the Florida juvenile offenders reported these three ACEs. The least commonly reported ACE indicator for males were sexual abuse, household mental illness, and physical neglect, while the lowest three for females were household mental illness, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Sexual abuse was reported 4.4 times more frequently by females than by males (31% and 7%, respectively). With the exception of sexual abuse, the ACE rank order by prevalence across genders was similar. However, as illustrated by Figure 1, females had a higher prevalence than males on every single ACE indicator. (8)

"The top three most prevalent ACE indicators were the same for both males and females: family violence, parental separation or divorce, and household member incarceration. Two-thirds or more of the Florida juvenile offenders reported these three ACEs. The least commonly reported ACE indicator for males were sexual abuse, household mental illness, and physical neglect, while the lowest three for females were household mental illness, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. ... These results are consistent with prior findings that the main gender difference in ACEs is the prevalence of sexual abuse." (9)

"Only 3.1% of males and 1.8% of the females reported no ACEs. ... These results indicated female youth reported more ACEs than males, and a higher percentage of those who reported at least one ACE also reported others. The average composite ACE score for females was 4.29, while the average for males was 3.48 (difference statistically significant at p < .001). That is, the average female in our sample reported at least four ACE indicators while the average male reported three or four ACE indicators." (9)

Juvenile offenders are 13 times less likely to report zero ACES (2.8% compared to 36%) and four times more likely to report four or more ACEs (50% compared to 13%) than Felitti and Anda’s Kaiser Permanente–insured population of mostly college-educated adults. These results suggest that the juvenile offenders in this study were significantly more likely to have ACE exposure and to have multiple ACE exposures than the adults in Felitti and Anda’s study population. (10)

ACEs not only increase the chances of involvement in the juvenile justice system, but increase the risk of re-offense. A focused effort on early identification of ACEs, and intervention for ACEs with a goal of improving youth life circumstances and preventing criminal behavior, may reduce the likelihood of and costs related to juvenile criminal activities. Most current policies in child welfare focus on secondary prevention instead of primary prevention of ACEs. (11)

IT IS NOT TOO EARLY TO TEACH BRAIN DEVELOPMENT SKILLS IN HIGH SCHOOL, SINCE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS ARE MERELY ONE SEXUAL EXPERIENCE AWAY FROM BEING TOMORROW’S PARENTS. FURTHERMORE, MANY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS PARTICIPATE IN THE CARE OF SMALLER CHILDREN. (11)

When school or health professionals observe behaviors such as overeating, substance abuse, smoking, disruptive classroom behavior, and bullying, a screening for a history of ACEs can be obtained and used to determine the appropriate intervention. When school personnel observe such behaviors, suspending or expelling students from school may deprive youth of the safest environment they can access. In-school programs to address bullying, disruptive classroom behavior, and aggression can keep youth in safe environments while they learn self-regulatory skills. Law enforcement and judicial awareness of ACES will enhance the likelihood that the root causes of problematic behaviors will be addressed with social and behavioral health services. Individuals with ACEs often use maladaptive or antisocial behaviors as strategies to cope with stress; such behaviors will not dissipate during periods of detention or incarceration without focused intervention. (11)

Early childhood intervention programs addressing ACEs have demonstrated significant benefit–cost ratios. One such intervention displayed a return of $5.70 for every dollar spent by the time a child reached age 27, $8.70 in life-cost savings, and notable cost savings in crime reduction (Larkin & Records, 2007). (12)

A SCHOOL OR COMMUNITY-BASED SAFE PLACE THAT FOCUSES ON RELAXATION ACTIVITIES SUCH AS YOGA, MEDITATION, TAI CHI, AND PRAYER CAN BUILD RESILIENCE AND REDUCE STRESS BY EMPOWERING CHILDREN TO MODULATE THEIR STRESS RESPONSES AND ENHANCE THEIR PERSONAL PERCEPTIONS OF SAFETY. CHILDREN WITH HIGH RESILIENCE TEND TO BE MORE SUCCESSFUL IN SCHOOL, HAPPIER, AND LESS DEPRESSED. YOUTH DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN, PARENTS, AND TEACHERS SHOULD INTEGRATE ACTIVITIES THAT BUILD RESILIENCE AND ADDRESS ACES SO THAT CHILDREN DEVELOP CONFIDENCE, SELF-CONTROL, AND RESPONSIBILITY. THESE INTERVENTIONS AND PROGRAMS HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO KEEP CHILDREN FROM ENGAGING IN RISKY SOCIAL AND HEALTH BEHAVIORS. (12)

A FUNDAMENTAL TOOL IN SECONDARY PREVENTION IS THE IMPLEMENTATION OF TRAUMA-INFORMED CARE (TIC), WITH A CENTRAL PRECEPT OF ASKING “WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO YOU?” RATHER THAN THE CUSTOMARY “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” THE ACE COMPOSITE SCORE IS PRECISELY A MEASURE OF “WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO YOU.” (13)

In light of findings that females have higher rates of exposure to all ACE indicators than males (especially sexual abuse and the ACE composite score), yet have lower rates of delinquent involvement, gender-specific intervention strategies should be examined since there may be gender differences in response to exposure to traumatic circumstances. Exposure to ACEs manifests itself differently among females than males (e.g., females have more internalizing behaviors, mental health symptoms, and self-mutilation; males exhibit more externalizing and acting out behaviors). Furthermore, a much higher percentage of female violent offenses exclusively involve domestic violence, as opposed to more heterogeneous violent offenses for males (Herrera & McCloskey, 2001). (13)