If the populations of Knoxville and Chattanooga were combined, they still wouldn't equal the number of adults in Shelby County who experienced some form of abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction as a kid.
A new privately funded task force recently administered an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) survey, and it showed that 52 percent (an estimated 361,200) of adults in Shelby County had at least one adverse childhood experience. These are categorized as things like child abuse, domestic violence, neglect, and alcoholism in the family.
For those who encountered adverse childhood experiences on a more consistent basis, the likelihood of them being unemployed, abusing drugs, having poor health, contracting sexually transmitted infections, or attempting suicide was significantly higher.
To intervene with kids who may be at risk of heading down a similar path, two Universal Parenting Places will be opened here this spring. The goal of these centers will be to aid and educate parents whose children are exhibiting negative behaviors on how to combat these issues before they progress.
"We have places for people to go once they've already experienced serious trauma and they're having the symptoms, but we don't really have a network of prevention," said Barbara Holden Nixon, ACE task force chair. "When the normal challenges of childhood arise, there's not a place for them to go to get help and guidance before those problems become a serious issue. We can avoid so many of the problems that we are dealing with on the back end if we deal with them on the front end and really get to the root of the issue."
There will be two pilot sites for the Universal Parenting Places. One will be established at Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women and the other at Knowledge Quest.
The sites will provide both individual and group education sessions around children's emotional and behavioral health. There will also be arts-related activities, such as performances by theater troupe Playback Memphis, presented at the sites. A children's play area will be available for kids who accompany their parents.
The Universal Parenting Places will be open to all area families. Centers can be accessed on a walk-in basis or through pediatrician referrals.
Last week, a public forum on adverse childhood experiences was held at the Salvation Army Kroc Center.
The event was filled with community leaders and featured several speakers, including Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Dr. Vincent J. Felitti (co-principal investigator of the ACE study), and Robin Karr-Morse (Universal Parenting Places consultant).
The results of the ACE survey were shared during the event. Among the statistics revealed were that 20 percent of county adults experienced childhood sexual abuse; 41 percent of adults were bullied as children; and 37 percent witnessed a shooting or stabbing.
The random survey was conducted on 1,506 adults in Shelby County through telephone interviews. Participants hailed from every zip code in the county. They were questioned about childhood living conditions and mistreatment, family dysfunction, current health status and behaviors, and other issues.
According to the survey, one out of five adults experienced two to three adverse experiences when they were kids; 12 percent of adults experienced four or more. The negative experiences were more likely to affect those who resided in the inner-city, lacked a high school education, and/or were poverty-stricken.
"There's a lot of stigma attached to most adverse childhood experiences," Holden Nixon said. "Most people don't want to talk about emotional abuse. They don't want to talk about physical abuse. They don't want to talk about the things that have been painful in their childhood."