Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in Early Childhood and Their Associations with Middle Childhood Behavior Problems
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Experiences in early childhood lay the foundation for physical and psychological health and wellbeing throughout the life course. A large body of literature demonstrates a graded relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and health and social outcomes. Children living in poverty are disproportionately likely to experience multiple adversities, placing them at risk for negative health and developmental outcomes and contributing to widening health disparities. Among the outcomes associated with ACEs are internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, which increase children’s risk of later depression and anxiety, substance use, criminality, low socioeconomic status, and chronic physical health problems. In spite of the substantial knowledge base that has developed around childhood adversity and its association with behavior problems, there are gaps in the literature that warrant further research. Firstly, few studies utilizing prospective longitudinal data have examined the role of timing and duration of exposure to adversities in early childhood, and their relationship with later behaviors. Secondly, researchers have only just begun exploring whether certain patterns or constellations of risk factors are common among different groups of children, and whether these patterns place certain groups at greater risk for behavior problems. A third gap relates to the role of father involvement by unmarried fathers and the potential for these fathers to promote more positive outcomes among children exposed to various levels of early adversity. The three studies in this dissertation analyze data from four waves of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to document associations between ACEs experienced at ages 1, 3, and 5, and behavior problems at age 9. Life course theory provides an overarching framework for the dissertation. The first study examines the associations between the accumulation, timing, and duration of ACEs in the first five years of life and odds of behavior problems at age 9. The second study employs latent class analysis to identify patterns of risk exposure and their potential association with age 9 behaviors. The third study investigates whether early father involvement by fathers who were unmarried at the child’s birth moderates the association between early childhood adversity and age 9 behavior problems.