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Arizona ranks last in nation for adverse childhood experiences

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
LISTEN: Arizona ranks last for adverse childhood experiences

PHOENIX — Arizona is dead last for children facing traumatic experiences, a new report found.

The annual report by America’s Health Rankings placed Arizona as the worst state in the nation in which children face two or more adverse childhood experiences. This includes various forms of child abuse and neglect as well as living with a parent who has substance abuse problems or mental health problems.

The report found 30.6 percent of children in Arizona experienced two or more adversities last year. The national average was 22.6 percent.

Marcia Stanton, senior program coordinator of the Strong Families program at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, said these adverse experiences can have toxic and long-lasting effects on children. She said they can impact children “as greatly as injuries or chronic illnesses.”

“They really impact the neurodevelopment and the health and wellbeing for the entire child, and it doesn’t last just in childhood,” Stanton said. “It often impacts individuals across a lifespan.”

Stanton credited a 1998 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente for bringing attention to adverse childhood experiences.

The study looked at the impact of adverse childhood experiences among more than 17,000 middle-class Americans.

“Even within that population, it found significant correlations between experiences of adversity in childhood with a whole host of negative outcomes in terms of health and mental health across a lifespan,” Stanton said.

A few years after the study was released, Stanton formed the Arizona ACE Consortium, which is a coalition of health professionals working to prevent more kids from experiencing trauma.

The group started out with a handful of people and now has up to 500 members. They have several working groups, including one that’s encourages city leaders to provide support services for families.

Stanton said Phoenix Children’s Hospital also has efforts in place to address the issue. That includes doing early screenings and getting families the support they need whenever childhood adverse experiences are detected.

“If we can set kids on the right path from the very beginning, it’s much more effective and less costly than trying to mediate after a child is already experiencing issues at school or getting involved in substance issues or other things,” she said.

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