Contextualizing Adverse Childhood Experiences: The Intersections of Individual and Community Adversity


Warner, Tara D.; Leban, Lindsay; Pester, Danielle A.; & Walker, Jeffery T. (2022). Contextualizing Adverse Childhood Experiences: The Intersections of Individual and Community Adversity. Journal of Youth and Adolescence.


Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic childhood events that can undermine youth development, and are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and risk-taking behaviors in adulthood. ACEs are preventable, yet effective response strategies require comprehensive conceptualization and measurement of adversity. Although typically measured as individual experiences in the family and home (e.g., abuse, neglect), adversity also exists outside the home, in the many contexts in which youth development unfolds (e.g., communities, neighborhoods). Yet, such contexts and experiences are often absent in ACEs research. Using data from a nationally representative youth sample, this study addresses that gap, advancing a measure that contextualizes individual-level ACEs within social and structural domains of community-level adversity. Among 13,267 youth (mean age = 15.25 [range 12–18]; 51% female; 71% White; 13% Black; 10% Hispanic; 3% Asian; 2% American Indian/Multiracial), 61% and 73% were exposed to at least one individual and community ACE, respectively, while 15% of youth reported severe individual ACE exposure (≥3 ACEs) and 20% were exposed to severe (≥3) community ACEs. All ACE exposures were associated with problem behaviors later in adolescence, but youth reporting both severe individual and community ACEs were especially at high risk for later violence, delinquency, and other health-risk behaviors. These findings highlight that community adversity exacerbates the damaging effects of individual/family adversity and thus should be addressed in efforts to prevent ACEs and reduce their long-term harm.



Adverse childhood experiences

Reference Type

Journal Article

Journal Title

Journal of Youth and Adolescence


Warner, Tara D.
Leban, Lindsay
Pester, Danielle A.
Walker, Jeffery T.

Year Published






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