Scientists uncover effects of negative childhood experiences

Even though many kids might overcome the barriers that an A.C.E. puts in their way early on, scientists are now finding out that there can still be significant health risks to that child when they grow up.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - It has never been difficult to connect the dots between a troubled upbringing and problems later in life. Now more and more scientists are finding out just how big those problems are.

Social scientists are figuring out that the troubled kid who overcame a broken home to succeed as an adult is rare, and that a list of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) is being linked directly to trouble for too many kids in Arkansas.

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“Abuse, neglect and household dysfunction are the three categories they are classified by,” said Janie Ginocchio, lead coordinator for the Arkansas Childhood Experience and Resilience Work Group. ”Parental separation or divorce, a parent that has a mental or substance abuse problem, a parent that's been incarcerated or if a child's witnessed domestic violence.”

The three categories are things that a wide range of professionals have identified and isolated that can change the course of a kid's life. Study of ACE’s is about 20 years old. They have the attention of none other than Oprah Winfrey, who will report on them for “60 Minutes.”

“This story is so important to me and I believe to our culture that if I could dance on the tabletops right now to get people to pay attention I would,” Winfrey told CBS This Morning ahead of the broadcast Sunday night.

Even though many kids might overcome the barriers that an ACE puts in their way early on, scientists are now finding out that there can still be significant health risks to that child when they grow up.

“Obesity, chronic illnesses, cancer and even Alzhiemers have linkages to early childhood adversity,” Ginocchio said.

Arkansas is the worst in the nation when it comes to overall ACE scores and seventh from the bottom for kids with multiple events in their young lives. There are many reasons, but part of the problem is the “vicious cycle” that develops as troubled kids become troubled parents.

Identifying the problem is key to getting started.

“Number one, we've got to change the culture from saying ‘what's wrong with you?’ to ‘what happened to you?” Ginocchio said.”I don't think there's an easy answer, honestly, and so we've just got to do what we can to stop these situations from happening.”

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Divorce or separation is one of the adverse events researchers are tracking.

They stress that parents shouldn't stay together for the sake of the kids, especially if there is abuse in the relationship, but keeping at least one stable adult presence in the child's life through the separation helps ease the adversity.