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John McMillin: Adverse childhood experiences present lifelong challenges

John McMillin • Updated Aug 15, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth executive director Linda O’Neal is well known for her work with our state’s children, and so we at United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland want to tell report to you about some recent findings. 

The Kids Count: The State of the Child in Tennessee 2016 report recently released by the TCCY focuses on the importance of preventing and responding appropriately to Adverse Childhood Experiences, along with current ACEs data for Tennessee and county rankings on child well being.

“Research demonstrates adverse childhood experiences can disrupt brain development, especially in young children,” said O’Neal, “and present lifelong challenges for success in school, relationships, employment and health across the lifespan.”

The original ACEs study focused on child abuse and neglect and family dysfunction, and revealed the commonness of these conditions, even in families that appear to be prosperous. It demonstrated people with more ACEs were more likely to face health and mental health challenges. The report includes the most recent data on ACEs in Tennessee from the Department of Health Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While two in five adults in Tennessee have experienced no ACEs, more than one in six Tennesseans has experienced four or more ACEs, the critical point where outcomes are increasingly compromised. Tennesseans with four or more ACEs report lower average income, lower educational attainment, poorer health and higher rates of obesity, smoking, depression and heart disease.

Building Strong Brains: Tennessee’s ACEs Initiative is a public-private effort to change the culture of Tennessee to focus on preventing adverse childhood experiences whenever possible, and to mitigating their impact when they cannot be prevented. Providing safe, stable, nurturing environments encourages healthy brain development and improves outcomes for individuals and prosperity for the state.

The old real estate rule of “location, location, location,” is also true for the well being of children, according to data in the report showing the overall well being of children varies according to where they live. Research shows children with the same risk factors fare differently on issues like educational success, life expectancy and economic mobility based on their neighborhood.

The child well-being rankings for the Tennessee counties in Kids Count: The State of the Child in Tennessee reports the range of outcomes from Williamson County, which ranked the best, to Shelby County, where children face the most obstacles.

“Where children live can have a substantial impact on the trajectory of their lives,” said O’Neal, “and supportive, nurturing communities and good public policies can be instrumental in helping overcome poverty, adversity and other challenging circumstances.”

Many of the better ranking counties surround Nashville or are in West Tennessee. Washington County scored best in East Tennessee at ninth. The counties with the highest levels of child well being were Williamson, Weakley, Wilson, Rutherford and Sumner. Counties where child well being was most challenged were Shelby, Lake, Union, Clay and Sequatchie.

The report included overviews of and tables of county rankings for the four domains and county rankings for each factor composing the domains. For more information, look online at tn.gov/tccy/article/tccy-kcsoc16. Profiles for individual counties, including how each ranked overall and on the domains by linking to the county pages, are available at tn.gov/tccy/article/tccy-kc-soc16-counties.

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at john@givetouwwc.org.

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