At-Risk Children and Adolescents—At Risk of What

By the Editors

This magazine is dedicated to the sharing of information among helping professionals who work with at-risk children and teens—examining the problems and exploring possible solutions. But what exactly do we mean when we describe certain young people as at risk? At risk of what?

The answer, in short, is that their life situations are placing them at risk of poor social, emotional, and physical health, cognitive difficulties, and problematic behaviors throughout their lives. Articles in this section of The New Circle will look more closely at childhood adversity—the many factors that contribute to a child or adolescent being considered at risk.

Childhood Adversity and ACES

Childhood adversity refers to a wide range of circumstances or events that pose a serious threat to a child’s physical or psychological wellbeing. Common examples of childhood adversity include child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, bullying, serious accidents or injuries, discrimination, extreme poverty, and community violence. Research shows that such experiences can have serious consequences, especially when they occur early in life, are chronic and/or severe, or accumulate over time. However, adversity does not predestine children to poor outcomes, and children are able to recover when they have the right supports—particularly the consistent presence of a warm, sensitive caregiver.1

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, is a specific subset of childhood adversity. The term was coined by a study that was conducted in the late 1990s by researchers at the managed care consortium, Kaiser Permanente, and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ten categories of ACEs were identified by the researchers:

1. Physical abuse
2. Sexual abuse
3. Emotional abuse
4. Physical neglect
5. Emotional neglect

6. Domestic violence
7. Household substance abuse
8. Household mental illness
9. Parental separation or divorce
10. Parental Incarceration

The study demonstrated an association of ACEs with problems throughout the lifespan, including:

• Cognitive, social, & emotional impairment
• Adoption of health-risk behaviors
• Disease, disability, & social problems
• Early death

For more about this study, plus information about the lifelong effects of adverse childhood experiences, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at:

No ACEs lists or screening tools identify all childhood adversities, but those that do not include adversity related to social disadvantage are likely to overlook children in specific racial and ethnic groups who are disproportionately affected.2

Therefore to meet The New Circle objective of covering all adverse experiences that impact on children’s lives, to the 10 ACEs we have added 5 categories of experiences of social disadvantage that also result in high risk for children and adolescents:

  1. poverty
  2. homelessness
  3. community violence
  4. discrimination
  5. historical trauma

In this issue of the magazine, the childhood adversity article looks at sexual abuse in childhood.

End Notes

  1. Center on the Developing Child. (2004). Young children develop in an environment of relationships: Working paper 1. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. https://46y5eh11fhgw3ve3ytpwxt9r-wpengine.
  2. Bartlett, J.D., & Sacks, V. (2019). Adverse childhood experiences are different than child trauma, and it’s critical to understand why. The Chronicle of Social Change.

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