Using Proven Early Childhood Interventions to Combat ACES

Toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are major influences on a child’s overall development — affecting school readiness, student success, physical and mental health, and other factors.
Early Childhood Interventions

The Ideas & Solutions blog is intended to provide a forum for the discussion of child care and early education issues and ideas. We hope to provoke thoughtful discussions within the field and to help those outside the field gain a better understanding of priorities and concerns.

Originally published in the Summer 2022 Issue of Kansas Child Magazine.

Using Proven Early Childhood Interventions to Combat ACES

It’s true what they say: children don’t come with an instruction manual. These days, many families are struggling to feel successful raising their children while also coping with the many demands and challenges of modern life.

Toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are major influences on a child’s overall development — affecting school readiness, student success, physical and mental health, and other factors, including the ability to exercise self-control. ACEs include abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, mental health or substance use problems in the household, and instability in the household, such as separated parents, among other experiences.

ACEs are incredibly common. According to the CDC, approximately 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported that they had experienced at least one ACE, while 1 in 6 had experienced at least four. In Kansas, 39% of children have experienced an ACE and 20% have experienced two or more ACEs.

The first step toward addressing toxic stress and supporting children’s physical health and social-emotional development is to screen early and regularly. Performing a developmental screening when a child first enrolls in early care and education can identify potential risk factors or barriers to success. In many cases, when these concerns are identified and addressed early, the interventions are less intrusive, and children reach developmental milestones more quickly. 

Programs & Interventions

Caring and responsive relationships are critical for every child’s healthy development. A number of programs and interventions, including evidence-based home visiting models within the state, nurture caring relationships and positive childhood experiences.

For example, evidence-based early literacy programs promote stronger caregiver-child relationships. Programs like Reach Out and Read (ROR) engage parents, children, and health care providers. ROR’s Perry Klass notes that, by reading to young children, parents and educators are teaching responsiveness and cultivating routines and structures that will help children feel safe. These relationships and routines will stimulate healthy brain development and foster a love of reading, leading to improved language skills and health outcomes.  

For kids with significant needs, caring and responsive relationships mitigate the effects of toxic stress. Research shows that infants and toddlers who have experienced adversity can benefit from early intervention that focuses on building supportive adult relationships.

One strategy to counteract early adversity is the evidence-based Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC) program. Over the course of the 10-week program, parents increase their knowledge and skills in order to create secure attachments and help their children have better outcomes. While babies cannot verbalize their needs, parents can learn to recognize and respond to their child’s cues, which leads to strong and healthy relationships.

Through support for evidencebased early childhood development programs, we can ensure that the youngest Kansans enjoy nurturing family environments that prepare them for healthy lives and  academic success. Investing in proven early childhood interventions as a state will result in a more capable workforce, reduced health care and mortality costs, and reduced demand for public services. Kansas’ future depends on the children we invest in today.

Child care providers and infant mental health

No one can say that caring for infants is simple work. Understanding infants and toddlers and making sure they receive appropriate behavioral health support is difficult.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, as many as 1 in 10 preschoolers are affected by emotional, relationship, and behavioral problems. When a young child is misbehaving, it may be due to mental health concerns. Ensuring that children receive age-appropriate support — and receive it as early as possible — is important for their future health and school readiness.

How can child care providers promote good mental health?

  • David Jordan
    President, United Methodist Health Ministry Fund (Health Fund)

    David leads the Health Fund’s grantmaking, relationship building, policy development, and advocacy efforts. He also represents the Health Fund on local, state, and national boards, including serving as a member of the Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice.