What is it about?

Childhood adversity is associated with the risk of poor physical and mental health outcomes in a cumulative fashion. This study presents the development of the Adverse Life Events Inventory for Children (ALEIC). ALEIC works in conjunction with the interRAITM Child and Youth Mental Health (ChYMH) instrument, a comprehensive multisource assessment which collects information related to the child/youth’s history, concerns, and strengths. We reviewed items on the ChYMH considered to be reflective of adverse life events; after two rounds of expert feedback, a consensus was reached on 28 items across 16 categories reflecting a wide range of negative life events. The ALEIC total score is calculated as the total number of categories from which at least one adverse life event has been experienced. We then analyzed data from 13,645 ChYMH assessments performed on children and youth ages 4 to 18 at one of 40 children’s mental health agencies across Ontario, Canada. The mean ALEIC total score for the entire sample was 3.77 (out of 16). Noteworthy, 40% of children and 51% of youth reported experiencing events from four or more categories (above the mean). Only 10% of children/youth had no reports of adverse life events. As predicted, higher ALEIC scores were associated with symptoms of trauma.

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Why is it important?

Given the high rates and diversity of adverse life events seen in children/youth seeking mental health services, screening for a broad range of adverse experiences may help prevent further exposure and support immediate intervention to reduce long-term impacts. Clinicians should also account for the role of trauma and its impacts on children/youth and families when performing assessments and providing treatment. The ALEIC is a tool that can be used to probe for concerns at intake without the need for any additional burden to families because it is part of a comprehensive intake assessment.

Perspectives

It will come as no surprise that those seeking mental health services have often experienced some form of adversity in their lives. Likewise, most child clinicians who are asked to assess boys acting badly and girls acting sadly know they should always investigate family violence and trauma history. However, focusing on “trauma inducing” events is not sufficient in clinical interviews. We had the opportunity to document the diversity and extent of negative early life experiences in over 13,000 children and youth seeking mental health services. The combination of loss, violence and lack of safety experienced in multiple (and synergistic) ways both within the home and community was striking, with over half of the youth in our clinical sample having four or more different types of adversity before age 18. Every mental health professional assessing children should routinely survey “what happened to this child?” in a broad, systematic fashion, rather than asking only about trauma and child abuse. - Dr. Jeff St. Pierre, Department of Psychology, Western University

Kim Arbeau
Child and Parent Resource Institute

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Introducing the Adverse Life Events Inventory for Children (ALEIC): An examination of adverse experiences and related impacts in a large clinical sample of children and youth., Traumatology An International Journal, May 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/trm0000385.
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