How many Kansas children experience trauma before age 18? Nearly half, report shows

USD 501 works to address adverse childhood experiences

Lead early childhood education principal Shanna McKenzie in the Sheldon Elementary School clothing bank. (Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal)

Forty-five percent of Kansas children under the age of 18 suffer an adverse childhood experience, according to a recent analysis by the Child & Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, putting the state in line with the national figure of 46 percent.


Such adverse experiences, or ACEs, “include a range of experiences that can lead to trauma and toxic stress and impact children’s brain development and physical, social, mental, emotional, and behavioral health and well-being,” the report said.

Educators with Topeka Unified School District 501 have been working to address the prevalence of students’ ACE scores at Pine Ridge Prep and Sheldon Child Development Center. In last year’s applications, more than half of the children came from single-parent households and 30 percent had been exposed to domestic violence, said Shanna McKenzie, Sheldon’s lead principal for early childhood education.

The schools have also seen an increase in the number of children with an incarcerated parent — about 16 percent. McKenzie said when students visit a parent in jail, teachers expect they will bring the experience back to school. That may come in the form of negative behavior. McKenzie said teachers have undergone training to become more informed about trauma and more responsive as they address issues.

In 2012, staff began realizing the extent of trauma — such as exposure to gun violence — that children at Pine Ridge were experiencing. By age 4, 60 percent of the students had experienced four or more ACEs.

The centers added family service workers and play therapy. A food bank and clothing pantry were established on site at Sheldon and staff members are able to connect families to other community resources.

Additionally, all of the district’s principals have had ACE training. One session included listening to a domestic violence 911 call, McKenzie said, so they could better understand the effects of trauma.

The two centers also began educating parents about the ACE questionnaire. Parents fill out their ACE score and their child’s. Staff discuss implications, including the cycle of trauma.

ACEs are common and should be talked about, McKenzie said. The district plans on rolling out the optional test to all parents of its students at some point.

Education is the first step, McKenzie said, as parents may not even realize they are perpetuating their negative experiences onto their children.

“It’s what you do with it after, that makes a difference,” she said.

One step is to develop a resiliency plan, which asks about a person’s strengths, what they need to work on and how they can stay on track, among other questions.

“It’s empowering,” McKenzie said.

One woman answered by saying she had a kind heart and was willing to help others, but she needed to work on feelings of anxiety and feeling safe, McKenzie said.

The resiliency plan identifies strengths and support systems and, in doing so, builds confidence, McKenzie said.

The ACE report also emphasizes resilience, which can be developed by teaching children how to stay calm and in control when faced with challenges.

Children ages 6 to 17 with two or more ACEs are more than three times more likely to be engaged in school if they learn skills related to resilience. The analysis found children can learn to cope and heal with support from family, health care providers and the broader community.


By the numbers

Kansas ACE scores

1 or more, ages 0-5 years: 31 percent

1 or more, ages 0-17 years: 45 percent

2 or more, ages 0-17 years: 21 percent

Among Kansas children with 1 or more ACEs

25 percent have a chronic health condition

42 percent demonstrated resilience

50 percent considered engaged in school


State rate of 1 or more ACEs ranged from 38 to 55 percent

ACEs are common across all income levels, though 58 percent of children with ACEs live in homes with incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level

40 percent of white children, 51 percent of Hispanic children, 63 percent of black children and 25 percent of Asian children reported 1 or more ACEs


The nine ACEs assessed on report

Somewhat often/very often hard to get by on income

Parent/guardian divorced or separated

Parent/guardian died

Parent/guardian served time in jail

Saw or heard violence in the home

Victim of violence or witnessed neighborhood violence

Lived with anyone mentally ill, suicidal, or depressed

Lived with anyone with alcohol or drug problem

Often treated or judged unfairly due to race/ethnicity