If there were a way to decrease rates of our leading diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke with one low cost approach, wouldn’t we invest in it?

What if this approach also substantially decreased incarceration, crime and substance abuse?

Parents served by The Family Center struggle with costly social problems, addiction, and mental health issues and higher rates of physical disease. We now know how to help break the cycle for their children.

Fifteen years of research has shown that individuals who have four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are at much greater risk for health problems in later life than other adults. As the number of ACEs increase, so does the frequency and severity of health issues and their related costs, and they often lead to premature death.

These were among the findings of the landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers surveyed more than 17,000 adult patients for ACEs, and correlated the number of ACEs against health outcomes. What they found was striking.

These risks are even more severe for clients of The Family Center. These individuals are experiencing the effects of childhoods riddled with trauma and adversity. Many of them are parents who are incarcerated, in substance abuse treatment, involved with the legal system, and living in poverty. These individuals will have more serious health problems and experience lifespans that are shorter by as much as 20 years. With no intervention, they are also at high risk of abusing and neglecting their own children.

This is a serious public health issue that affects all Tennesseans in terms of quality of life, safety, and increased tax dollars.

Since April 2014, The Family Center has collected ACE scores on more than 700 clients, and these individuals are at greater risk than those in the original study. More than 74% of these parents have a score of four or more, and 53% have an ACE score of six or more, this compares to 12.6% with four or more ACEs and 3% with six or more ACEs in the general population.

Though these statistics are sobering, The Family Center is working to break this vicious cycle by increasing our clients’ awareness of these links and providing high quality, research-based training to improve healthy parenting skills. Safe, stable, nurturing relationships between children and their parents can help stem this devastating cycle and help future generations avoid these increased health problems.