There has been much research since then on the negative impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on adult mental and physical health. It stands to reason that ACEs would negatively impact parenting as well. Studies have shown that the more ACEs parents have, the greater the developmental risk there is to their children, including an increase in child emotional and behavioral difficulties. Parents with unresolved trauma can struggle with parenting and are at a greater risk of abusing/neglecting their children. Despite these important findings, there appears to be a dearth of studies examining the ACEs of foster parents. In fact, there are no known published studies that have reported on ACEs of foster parents. Given the large number of studies examining the ACEs of adults and parents in general, this appears to be a significant gap in the research.
ACEs were collected as part of a randomized controlled trial of a psycho-education intervention for foster parents, conducted from January 2017 to April 2018 in Texas. Pre/post data were collected from a total of 84 foster parents and included assessments of parenting stress (PSI) and foster children’s emotional/behavioral difficulties (SDQ). Correlation and linear regression analyses were conducted to examine the relationship between scores on the PSI, SDQ, and the number of ACEs of foster parents.
ACEs collected on this sample were compared with the data from studies examining ACEs of the general population. This sample of foster parents experienced significantly more emotional abuse (19% vs 11%) and physical neglect (19% vs 10%) than adults in the general population and had many more parents reporting to have four or more ACEs (20% vs 12%). Results demonstrated that both PSI_CDI and the SDQ-SF total difficulties scores were positively and significantly correlated with ACE scores (R² = .056, F(1, 83) = 4.88, p = .03; R² = .091, F(1, 82) = 8.24, p < .01), indicating that those parents with higher parenting stress around dysfunctional interactions with their child and those having more behavioral and emotional difficulties with their child, had higher ACE scores.
This study appeared to have a much higher number of foster parents reporting to have four or more ACEs, compared with the general population. This is concerning as having four or more ACEs has been linked to a much higher risk of physical and mental health issues throughout adulthood. Furthermore, regression results indicate that the number of ACEs a foster parent reported predicted the amount of parenting stress related to dysfunctional interactions with their foster children, as well as the number of emotional and behavioral difficulties their foster children were experiencing. Given a greater proportion of foster parents in this study reported a high number of ACEs, this theoretically increases the risk to parent and child. ACE data could be quite useful to collect when working with foster parents, as it would allow for an assessment of risk and exploration of resilience.