Measuring adverse childhood experiences with latent class trajectories

Publication Year


Journal Article

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are associated with several negative health and behavioral outcomes during adolescence, but most of the extant research has employed ACEs scores at one or two time points. Studies have not assessed whether latent class ACEs trajectories affect adolescent problem behaviors and conditions.

We used longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS, n = 3444) to assess ACEs at several time points and empirically developed latent class trajectories. We then examined the sociodemographic characteristics of youth who belonged to each trajectory group. We next evaluated whether the ACEs trajectories during childhood were associated with delinquent behavior, substance use, and symptoms of anxiety or depression. Finally, we explored whether closeness to mother buffered the impact of ACEs on these outcomes.

Eight types of ACEs were captured in the FFCWS data. ACE scores were assessed at year one, three, five, and nine, along with the outcomes during year 15. Trajectories were estimated with a semiparametric latent class models.

The analysis revealed three latent trajectories during childhood: a low/none ACEs group, a medium exposure group, and a high exposure group. Adolescents in the high exposure group manifested a heightened risk of involvement in delinquent behaviors and substance use. They also reported more symptoms of anxiety and depression than their peers in the low/none and medium exposure groups.

Repeated exposure to ACEs during childhood can have serious negative repercussions in the lives of adolescents, but maternal closeness may buffer their effects. Scholars should continue to examine the dynamics of ACEs exposure during childhood by using empirical approaches appropriate for identifying age-graded trajectories.

Child Abuse & Neglect
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