Prevalence & Consequences
In North Carolina each year, there are on average 7,800 substantiated cases of child maltreatment and 5,600 children who enter foster care. But these data do not adequately convey the full scope of childhood trauma in our communities.
Large-scale public health surveys over the course of 20 years have shown consistently that approximately half of all adults had at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), and 22 to 25 percent had three or more. ACEs include abuse and neglect, as well as a child’s mother being treated violently, substance abuse or mental illness in the home, parental incarceration, or parental separation – all of which have the potential to traumatize a child.
There are approximately 2.3 million children in North Carolina. Twenty-two percent is 506,000 children at risk of three or more Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Not every child who experiences significant adversity will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or related symptoms. Research suggests a 15 percent probability. Still, that means that at least 75,000 children in our state are living with a diagnosable condition that fundamentally undermines their healthy development and well-being. Even for those who do not develop PTSD, their traumatic experience will have consequences that can last a lifetime.
Children who suffer trauma or multiple adverse experiences have much greater risk for a range of negative outcomes: difficulty in school, substance abuse, problem sexual behavior, juvenile offenses, poor work performance as an adult, unemployment, incarceration, mental illness, and even chronic illness. For instance:
- Teens with 4 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences have higher resting heart rates, body mass index, and rates of obesity.
- A single trauma increases by two to three times the likelihood of using alcohol by age 14.
- 93 percent of juvenile offenders report at least one childhood trauma.
- 60 percent of homelessness in women can be attributed to childhood adversity; 45 percent in men.
- Adverse Childhood Experiences are highly correlated with seven of the ten leading causes of death in the US.
These preventable outcomes are tragic for the individuals involved, but they also come at a high cost for the communities they live in. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the lifetime cost for a single incident of child maltreatment ranges from $98,000 to $210,000, based on expenses in mental health, healthcare, education, and justice systems, as well as lost productivity as an adult. This means that, for every 100 children who experience maltreatment, their community assumes a long-term cost burden of at least $100 million.