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Childhood Experiences and Health

Children are born with the potential to do great things for themselves, their family, and their community. But adverse childhood experiences or ACEs can get in the way of their potential, by impacting their relationships, sense of self, and perceptions of the world around them.  

Adverse childhood experiences are very stressful events or circumstances that may occur during childhood. They can have significant effects on physical health, mental health, development, and social functioning. Without support, people can continue to be impacted by adverse childhood experiences throughout their lives. 

Types of adverse childhood experiences

The most common types of early adversity are listed below. 


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Emotional abuse


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Sexual abuse


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Physical abuse


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Emotional neglect


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Physical neglect


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Mental illness


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Domestic violence


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Substance use


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Incarceration of a loved one


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Parental separation


Prevalence of adverse childhood experiences

Adverse childhood experiences are common across the world. Wisconsin is no different.

Research shows that adverse childhood experiences impact all populations, regardless of identity. But some people have higher rates of adverse childhood experiences than others. Why? For one, some demographics have higher risk factors. Certain groups are more likely to experience collective and historical trauma, like stigma and systematic racism. Secondly, social determinants of health can determine a population's risk for adverse childhood experiences. These can include safe housing, educational and financial opportunities, or access to quality health care. 

What youth say

Adverse childhood experiences among Wisconsin youth have remained consistent with the national average. Between 2018-2019, nearly 40% of Wisconsin children experienced at least one adverse childhood experience. 

Between 2018-2019: 

  • Nearly 25% of Wisconsin youth experienced separation or divorce within their household. 
  • Almost 15% of Wisconsin youth experienced a financial hardship. 
  • Just over 34% of Wisconsin youth had lived in four or more residences. 
  • Nearly 20% of Wisconsin youth were forced to do various sexual acts. 

The source of this data is the Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  

What adults say

According to the most recent Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Survey data, nearly 60% of adults surveyed reported one or more adverse childhood experiences. This data has remained consistent among Wisconsin adults since the first wave of data collection in 2010.

In Wisconsin, Black and Indigenous populations are more likely to have adverse childhood experiences than their white, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino peers. Similarly, people who make less money and have less education are more likely to have experienced adverse childhood experiences than those with more money and education. 

Select an option below to see the data reported by Wisconsin adults.

Some racial or ethnic populations in Wisconsin experience higher ACEs scores than others. These numbers do not account for racial or ethnic sub-populations, like lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer and/or questioning (LGBTQ+) communities of color. Members of such sub-populations may face a higher risk for ACEs or may have higher ACEs scores. 

Estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults who experienced ACEs by race/ethnicity, 2017-2020

The graph shows the estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults who identify as female and male, and who report experiencing ACEs. Those who identify as female are more likely to experience four or more ACEs than those who identify as male.   

Estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults who experienced ACEs by sex, 2017-2020

There is a clear connection between ACEs and economic stability. In Wisconsin, people who earn less than $25,000 each year are two times more likely than those with a household income of at least $50,000 to have an ACEs score of four or more. 

Estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults who experienced ACEs by household income, 2017-2020

The graph shows the level of current educational attainment of Wisconsin adults who report experiencing ACEs. These estimated percentages reveal that adults who report a higher ACEs score are less likely to attain higher education levels than Wisconsin adults who report experiencing zero ACEs. 

Estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults who experienced ACEs by education, 2017-2020

Importance of a strong start 

Adverse childhood experiences can be passed from generation to generation as if they were genetic. Typically, the parents or caregivers of a child who experiences early adversity faced similar abuse or neglect when they were children, too. This effectively creates a cycle that can last for years.

Circle of adversity: adverse childhood experience, toxic stress, use of drugs and alcohol as coping mechanism, have kids, substance use in the home

Breaking the cycle of early adversity 

A stronger, connected, thriving Wisconsin can be a reality when we help children and families overcome the consequences of traumatic experiences. This gives them a pathway to avoid future trauma. Learn what people and communities can do to prevent early adversity.   


Last revised April 17, 2023