More than half of Tennessee residents experienced childhood adversity; one in five have 3+ ACEs

TN report art

In its second survey of the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in the state, Tennessee Young Child Wellness Council and the state’s Department of Health found that 52% of its residents experienced at least one ACE, and 21% have experienced three or more, which can lead to adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.

The data is derived from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey ACEs module conducted in 2012. Previously, Tennessee was one of five states profiled in the CDC report “ACEs reported by Adults – Five States, 2009,” based on data collected in the first ACEs module included in the BRFSS.

“Adverse Childhood Experiences in Tennessee” was released May 26. It balances the prevalence of ACEs with a message of resiliency and hope.  In bold type, it leads with “Facts NOT Fate,” stating, “Like a house’s foundation, brain architecture is built over time and from the bottom up. Positive experiences in infancy and early childhood can build a strong and solid foundation. Negative experience weaken the foundation which can lead to life-log problems.” (For more background about ACEs, go to ACEs 101.)

The report says that the state can do a number of things to prevent and reduce ACEs and build protective factors so that children can grow up to be healthy and happy. Several strategies are included in a section on the opportunities and resources to prevent and reduce ACEs:

  • Increase awareness of ACEs and their impact
  • Continue to collect and use Tennessee-specific ACE data
  • Prevent and respond to ACEs in communities

TN LoraineLucinskiLoraine Lucinski, administrator of Early Childhood Initiatives in the Tennessee Department of Health, provided specifics on some of these strategies. Many presentations are being made around the state to raise awareness of ACEs and their impact; the state has committed to include the ACEs module in future BRFSS surveys to provide sufficient data to observe trends in the state and the counties; and the state is examining ways to support communities in their efforts to address ACEs. Cities such as Memphis and Nashville are addressing ACEs as well as smaller, rural communities. Lucinski is currently evaluating ACEs-related legislation introduced in other states that could be considered in Tennessee.

TN Artist Palette

The report also addresses what parents and other caring adults should do to promote healthy brain development in children. Drawing upon the work of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University to emphasize early brain development, the report describes how to build a strong and solid foundation for children: Talk, sing, rhyme and read to/with a baby, know the importance of “serve and return,” and understand the importance of breastfeeding, good nutrition, regular sleep, medical check-ups and appropriate and consistent discipline.

The document concludes with resources, including kidcentraltn, a web site developed by the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet. After June 5, the report will be available for download on the Tennessee Department of Health’s web site at

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