Rethinking the Measurement of Adversity: Moving Toward Second-Generation Research on Adverse Childhood Experiences

Mersky, J. P., Janczewski, C. E., & Topitzes, J. (2017). Rethinking the measurement of adversity: Moving toward second-generation research on adverse childhood experiences. Child Maltreatment.

Research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) has unified the study of interrelated risks and generated insights into the origins of disorder and disease. Ten indicators of child maltreatment and household dysfunction are widely accepted as ACEs, but further progress requires a more systematic approach to conceptualizing and measuring ACEs.

Using data from a diverse, low-income sample of women who received home visiting services in Wisconsin (N = 1,241), this study assessed the prevalence of and interrelations among 10 conventional ACEs and 7 potential ACEs: family financial problems, food insecurity, homelessness, parental absence, parent/sibling death, bullying, and violent crime. Associations between ACEs and two outcomes, perceived stress and smoking, were examined. The factor structure and test–retest reliability of ACEs was also explored.

As expected, prevalence rates were high compared to studies of more representative samples. Except for parent/sibling death, all ACEs were intercorrelated and associated at the bivariate level with perceived stress and smoking. Exploratory factor analysis confirmed that conventional ACEs loaded on two factors, child maltreatment and household dysfunction, though a more complex four-factor solution emerged once new ACEs were introduced. All ACEs demonstrated acceptable test–retest reliability.

Implications and future directions toward a second generation of ACE research are discussed.

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