Four out of every 10 New Jersey children aged 17 and under have gone through at least one traumatic experience that could lead to serious consequences — both physical and mental — later in life.

Sad teen sitting on window
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Using data from the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health, a report released Thursday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Child & Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative found 41.4 percent of Garden State children have had at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). Eighteen percent have had two or more, including the death or incarceration of a parent, living with someone who's suicidal or hooked on drugs, or witnessing violence in the home. At least one ACE has touched a third of children in New Jersey under the age of 6.

All three of those rates are lower than the national averages, but still considered too high among the data gatherers.

According to the report, research shows ACEs can have serious early and long-term impacts on a child's health and well-being, causing high levels of toxic stress that derail physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. And among children who experience more than one, the outcome could obviously be much worse.

"We know that these can impact a child's development and have lifelong consequences — not only in behavior like depression or using drugs and alcohol to self medicate, but really we're seeing higher rates and risks for diabetes, obesity and other kinds of physical diseases that have their roots in these early experiences of adversity," said Martha Davis, senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Davis noted ACEs typically co-occur. If a child is experiencing violence at the home, that child is also more likely to be living with a parent abusing drugs or alcohol, she said.

Supportive relationships and teaching resilience skills can mitigate the effects of ACEs, the report claims. Beyond addressing the issue at home, families can also benefit from trusting and respectful relationships with their health care providers.

The report also points to the important of policies such as paid family leave and home visiting.

"Not all adverse experiences are created equally," Davis said. "You could experience the death of a parent, that could be life-changing. You could also experience the death of a parent and have a whole host of people behind you at school, at your providers' offices, who know how to support children."

Nationally, more than 46 percent of U.S. youth, or 34 million children, had at least one ACE as of 2016. More than 20 percent experienced at least two.

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