Intervention Breaks ACE Education Barriers

Focused early childhood support can reduce the impact of adverse childhood experiences on educational attainment later in life.

graph depicting percentage of participants attaining higher education by adverse childhood experience (ACE) and intervention status

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Children are particularly susceptible to the long-term consequences of trauma and abuse. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), like violence, neglect, and bullying, can have outsized negative effects on the health, wellbeing, and education of children as they grow.

An ACE score is one way of counting a person’s maltreatment during childhood. The higher the ACE score, the more likely that child is to experience later-in-life chronic health problems, such as cancer and diabetes, mental illness, and substance misuse. There is evidence that these risks can be mitigated with early interventions that build supportive adult relationships.

Alison Giovanelli and colleagues examined the relationship between ACE scores and early childhood intervention in a group of predominantly Black participants. They examined the long-term educational outcomes of children entering the Chicago Child-Parent Center (CPC), a preschool-through-third-grade intervention program for low-income families.

The CPC, similar to the Head Start program, provides education and family services with active family participation, small student-to-staff ratios, health care, and a curriculum to prepare kids for school. Researchers used National Student Clearinghouse records to compare the educational attainment by age 35 of students enrolled in CPC to children who didn’t have access to CPC.

As shown in the Figure, without CPC support, kids with 1 or more ACEs completed fewer years of education and had lower chances of attaining a bachelor’s or associate degree compared to those without ACEs. With CPC support, participants who experienced 1 or more ACEs performed similarly to CPC participants without ACEs when it came to attaining bachelor’s and associate degrees.

The researchers demonstrated that the benefits of focused early childhood support can reduce the deflating impact of adverse childhood experiences on education over decades.

Databyte via Alison Giovanelli, Christina F. Mondi, Arthur J. Reynolds, and Suh-Ruu Ou. Evaluation of Midlife Educational Attainment Among Attendees of a Comprehensive Early Childhood Education Program in the Context of Early Adverse Childhood Experiences. JAMA Network Open, 2022.