In 2021, 1 in 5 children in families with incomes up to double the federal poverty level had experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, according to results from the National Health Interview Survey released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Less than 1 in 8 children in families with incomes double or more than double than the federal poverty level that had experienced at least one stressful life event in 2021.
Children in families with incomes up to double the federal poverty level were more likely to be a victim of or witness to violence in their neighborhood and live with someone who had a substance abuse problem, was mentally ill or severely depressed, or was in jail.
These levels are nearly identical to those reported by the CDC in 2019, the last time NHIS survey results were released.
Adverse childhood experiences are associated with poor adult health outcomes, and multiple studies have found a correlation between students' ACE scores and poor academic performance.
Adolescents with an ACE history are much more likely to be suspended from school, have lower grades and be chronically absent compared to those without traumatic childhoods, according to a study published last year in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
The impact of ACEs can also show up in the classroom as behavioral and cognitive issues, including but not limited to difficulty concentrating, being easily distracted, having angry outbursts, avoidance, or engaging in conflict with others.
Prior to the pandemic, schools were already ramping up efforts to prevent or reduce the impact of stressful life events on students and emphasizing students' social and emotional wellbeing.
Then, in 2020, pandemic-induced trauma and stress led to a quick uptick in school districts' interest in providing SEL support. Since then, multiple surveys and studies have suggested students have returned to in-person schooling with increased trauma and behavioral problems.
Last year, the CDC found that about three in four high school students reported at least one potentially traumatizing experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over half reported up to two ACEs. Those levels were notably higher than pre-pandemic estimates, which suggested that about 61% of students below 18 had experienced at least one adverse event.
Additionally, both teachers and superintendents have noted that student mental health and behavioral concerns have worsened since the pandemic. A large majority of superintendents said behavioral concerns have deepened since COVID-19, and that student mental health is worse now than in 2019, according to a survey released earlier this year by EAB, an education research and consulting firm.
Schools and education leaders have stressed relying on trauma-informed practices to address these issues. However, a majority of superintendents in the EAB survey said they don't have the staff or funding to do so.