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Traumatic experiences among children in Greater Cincinnati

Aug 3, 2018

Download the report here and the data tables here.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children need “safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments” to grow up to be healthy.1 A lack of healthy relationships and environments or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can lead to long-term health challenges and negative health outcomes.2 The 2017 Child Well-Being Survey (CWBS) asked parents and guardians in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky several questions about whether their children had experiences that could be considered ACEs, such as the death of a parent, divorce, incarceration of a parent, frequent moves and safety concerns in the child’s neighborhood.

15% have a parent who has served time in jail

CWBS asked parents and guardians three questions about their child’s experience: “Has (your child) ever experienced … 1) a parent or guardian divorced or separated … 2) a parent or guardian who died … 3) a parent or guardian who served time in jail?" Divorce was the most commonly reported experience. Just more than 2 in 10 Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky children have a parent who was married and has divorced (23%).

More than 1 in 10 children in our region have a parent who has served time in jail (15%). About 1 in 10 children have experienced the death of a parent or guardian (8%). These questions were also asked by the National Survey of Children’s Health in 2016. Greater Cincinnati children are more likely than children nationwide to have experienced the death or incarceration of a parent, and about as likely to have experienced divorce (see graphs). In our region, all three of these experiences are more common in households earning less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG)3 than in households earning more than 200% FPG.

Housing, school instability more likely among lower-income families

Moving or changing schools can also be challenging in the life of a child, especially when it happens frequently. To assess the stability of the region’s households with children, CWBS asked, “How many times in the past 24 months has (your child) … moved to a new home … changed schools?” Fourteen percent of the region’s children had moved to a new home one time in the past two years. An additional 4% had moved to a new home two or more times in the past two years.

CWBS also asked how many times the child had changed schools in the past two years. More than 2 in 10 children in our region had changed schools at least once (22%). Two percent had changed schools two or more times in the past two years.

These answers varied by income. Children living in households earning 200% FPG or less were more likely than those in households earning more than 200% FPG to have moved or changed schools two or more times in the past two years.

Most feel child is safe in neighborhood; varies by income

CWBS also asked, “How often do you feel (your child) is safe in your community or neighborhood?” More than 9 in 10 caregivers (96%) reported that their child is usually or always safe in their community or neighborhood. Responses to this question varied by income. More than 1 in 10 parents and guardians earning 100% FPG or less felt that their child was only sometimes or was never safe in their neighborhood (11%), more than other income groups.

Why we ask these questions

Research shows that traumatic events in childhood can have long-term impact on the physical and mental health of an individual. As parents and community, we can work together to minimize the number of traumatic events that a child may experience. We can also work to help children and youth increase their resilience when a traumatic experience is unavoidable. Positive relationships with a supportive adult can provide the buffer needed to build resilience and minimize the impact of ACEs. Organizations can implement trauma-informed policies and practices to improve child wellness and outcomes.


1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Essentials for Childhood Framework: Creating Safe, Stable, Nurturing Relationships and Environments for All Children. Retrieved from https://www.bitly.com.

2 Felitti, V., Anda, R., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D., Spitz, A., Edwards, V., Koss, M., & Marks, J. (1998). Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 14(4): 245-258.

3 In 2016, 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines was $48,500 for a family of four.

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