Childhood aces

MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

The science is well established and should come as no surprise: children who suffer rough childhoods have a greater likelihood of being adversely affected later in life.

Studies have shown that children who incur adverse experiences are more likely to develop mental health issues, suffer chronic health problems and/or take part in risky behaviors such as smoking or drug abuse.

Oklahoma children are not immune from this phenomena. In fact we are No. 1, according to various nationwide surveys.

A 2017 National Survey of Children’s Health conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau found that 30.4% of Oklahoma children had incurred two or more adverse experiences, ranking it No. 1 among other states. Earlier surveys have found Oklahoma children ranked No. 1 in the percentage of children who had suffered four or more adverse experiences.

So what’s the big deal? Well, studies have found that adults exposed to four or more adverse experiences in childhood were:

• 7.4 times more likely than someone with no adverse childhood experiences to suffer from alcoholism.

• 4.7 times more likely than someone with no adverse childhood experiences to abuse drugs

• 4.6 times more likely than someone with no adverse childhood experiences to suffer from depression.

• 12 times more likely to attempt suicide.

• 3 times more likely to have had 50 or more sexual intercourse partners

• Twice as likely to smoke, be in poor health, suffer a stroke or have heart disease, or not graduate high school

Having an incarcerated parent is an example of an adverse childhood experience.

And with Oklahoma ranking No. 1 in female incarceration rate and No. 2 in male incarceration rate, it should be again no surprise that there are estimates that 26,000 children have a parent in Oklahoma Department of Corrections custody, according to a 2017 report from the Oklahoma Children of Incarcerated Parents Advisory Committee.

For those 26,000 children, they are 70% more likely than other children to end up incarcerated themselves, according to the committee.

For children with incarcerated parents, 45.4% of them experienced mental health problems after their mother was sent to prison, according to research by retired University of Oklahoma sociology professor Susan Sharp.

Overall, a 2016-17 government study ranked Oklahoma 15th among states for adults who had reported suffering from serious mental illness in the past year, or about 5% of the state population.