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K-State expert joins statewide team to understand and prevent adverse childhood experiences

Research shows that negative experiences children face influence their health and well-being later in life.

childReleased: Oct. 29, 2015

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Physical health concerns in adults such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and being overweight, along with mental health concerns, can be linked to past negative experiences in childhood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While researchers have uncovered more information about this relationship in the last 20 years, the CDC and several national and Kansas-specific organizations are working to connect the dots even more.

Elaine Johannes, an associate professor in Kansas State University's School of Family Studies and Human Services, said the first step in finding solutions is awareness and education, not only to help people who have had negative childhood experiences, but also to prevent these experiences altogether. People need to be more aware of adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, and how they can be prevented.

According to Child Trends, a nonprofit research center for information on children and youth, ACEs are potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being. ACEs can be physical, emotional or sexual abuse, as well as experiences such as parental divorce, multiple economic hardships, alcoholism or drug use in the home, or the death or incarceration of a parent or guardian.

Johannes, also a youth development specialist for K-State Research and Extension, said research has shown that a child is more apt to suffer health problems as an adult when he or she has experienced more than four ACEs during childhood. A July 2014 report by Child Trends shows 12 percent of children ages 0 to 17 in Kansas have experienced at least three ACEs, slightly higher than the national average of 11 percent.

Economic hardship is the most common ACE both nationally and in Kansas specifically, the report stated. Data shown in the report was from the 2011/12 National Survey of Children's Health.

"You can imagine that children and families who are living in harsh experiences or environments due to lack of income, a lot of transition and homelessness, coupled with a lack of being able to have a job or do well in school, lead to compounded adverse experiences," Johannes said.

The Kansas Children's Service League is a leader in the state for prevention of ACEs, she said, and has convened a variety of agencies to help bring awareness to encourage families, schools, clubs, organizations and faith communities to think about safe, nurturing and secure environments for children.

"Even though we think about families raising their children independently, we need to be aware that what's happening in a child's life affects a whole community," Johannes said. "And, we need to be equipped, not necessarily to intervene harshly, but to be supportive of parents and offer compassion to families who are having a tough time."

Among the assisting agencies is K-State Research and Extension. Johannes is serving on the team to learn more about research on ACEs and the most current data—collected in the last year by the CDC—for ACEs in Kansas. It will be released at the upcoming Governor's Conference for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, Nov. 4-6, in Topeka.

Pushing this research out to the public to make a difference in the lives of children is something in which extension professionals can assist, Johannes said.

"We were thankful when Kansas Children's Service League asked (K-State Research and Extension) to be part of the state team," she said. "It acknowledges that extension has footprints across the state. We connect with families, schools, businesses, faith groups, agencies and children, also. We do a lot of work through our 4-H clubs, and other programs and services we provide."

More information about the upcoming conference can be found on the Kansas Children's Service League website.

For more information, visit the K-State Family Studies and Human Services Extension, Engagement and Applied Research programs website.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Katie Allen
K-State Research and Extension

For more information:
Elaine Johannes – ejohanne@ksu.edu or 785-532-7720