Researchers Study Florida Teens' Exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences

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A new study, released by a research team organized by a professor at FIU's Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs , has found that among Florida youth, Native American girls are most likely to be exposed to abuse, neglect, and household challenges.

The study offers new insights into which groups of Florida teens are most likely to report adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Titled “ Differential Exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences Among Florida High School Students: The Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender ,” it was published in the prestigious Journal of Adolescent Health.

Dr. Ryan Meldrum , a professor and director of Research & Communications in the Green School's Criminology and Criminal Justice Department , was the senior researcher on the team, which he organized and which also includes Emley Holcombe , a graduate student at Brigham Young University (BYU); Dr. Melissa Jones , a professor at BYU; and Dr. Peter Lehmann , a professor at Sam Houston State University.

The team's work was based on data from the 2020 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey (FYSAS), which has been conducted annually since 2000. This survey is administered to a representative sample of students enrolled in Florida public schools, with students in grades 6-12 participating each year. In 2020, for the first time, a series of questions about ACEs was added to the survey. The study was based on data collected from more than 20,000 high school students (only high school students received the ACEs questions).

According to the researchers, most studies examining the prevalence of ACE exposure have two important shortcomings. “First,” Dr. Meldrum said, “data about ACE exposure usually cuts across just three main racial/ethnic categories: non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Black, and Latinx or Hispanic. And second, it doesn't usually explore the intersectionality of gender with race or ethnicity.”

Because the FYSAS allows participants to self-report their race and ethnic identities, the results offer more nuance than the traditional categories examined in past research. This enabled Dr. Meldrum's research team to examine the prevalence of ACEs across 26 distinct racial/ethnic and gender subgroups, including Asian and Native American as well as specific Hispanic and Caribbean subgroups including Haitian, Dominican, and Cuban.

The study revealed that more than two thirds of high school students in Florida report having experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, and nearly a quarter report having experienced at least four, which is considered high exposure. The data also showed that girls were more likely than boys to report high exposure—29 percent of females versus 17 percent of males.

“Of all the groups participating in the survey, Native American females were far and away the most likely to have high exposure to ACEs,” Dr. Meldrum said. “More than half of them reported having experienced at least four adverse childhood experiences. And for eight of the 10 ACE categories studied, Native American females ranked first.” The 10 categories included in the study are Emotional Abuse, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Family Violence, Parental Separation, Family Substance Use, Family Mental Illness, Family Incarceration, Emotional Neglect, and Physical Neglect.

Source: Journal of Adolescent Health

“We know that native American populations in Florida are already marginalized,” Dr. Meldrum said. “Exposure to so many negative experiences in childhood exacerbates the societal marginalization they already experience. There's an important story to tell here about how the state of Florida could better serve this population. Having data to support findings that we might have been able to predict could help mobilize resources to address this serious problem.”