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February 2013Vol. 14, No. 1Parental Exposure to Trauma

Chapin Hall recently released a report that explores how parents' personal histories and extensive exposure to trauma as children affect their adult functioning. The study examined comprehensive family assessments and administrative data for 85 families (140 parents and 176 children) in Illinois who had a child enter foster care in 2008 and were referred to the State's comprehensive family assessment program as standard placement cases.

The study team reviewed the assessments to determine if parents had experienced any of 10 traumatic experiences as children, as defined by the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) short form. The most common adverse childhood experiences for these parents were the loss of a parent (66 percent), such as through divorce or abandonment, and living with someone who had a problem with drugs or alcohol (42 percent). Additionally, more than one-quarter of the parents experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or domestic violence. More than a third of the parents (37 percent) had experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences, resulting in a high ACE score. Parents with a high ACE score also had more issues that required an immediate referral for services.

The assessments reflected significantly more concern about the service needs of parents with high ACE scores, particularly for mental health, residential stability, marital partner violence, and posttraumatic stress syndrome. Reunification rates and average lengths of stay for children who have at least one parent with a high ACE are similar to those who have parents with lower scores. The rate of reentry into foster care in those cases where the child was reunited with his or her parent, however, was higher for children with a high-scoring parent than for children with low-scoring parents.

The study was completed as part of a cooperative agreement between the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Children's Bureau. The report, Parents' Pasts and Families' Futures: Using Family Assessments to Inform Perspectives on Reasonable Efforts and Reunification, is available on the Chapin Hall website: