Prioritizing Possibilities for Child and Family Health: An Agenda to Address Adverse Childhood Experiences and Foster the Social and Emotional Roots of Well-being in Pediatrics

Acad Pediatr. 2017 Sep-Oct;17(7S):S36-S50. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2017.06.002.


Objective: A convergence of theoretical and empirical evidence across many scientific disciplines reveals unprecedented possibilities to advance much needed improvements in child and family well-being by addressing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), promoting resilience, and fostering nurturance and the social and emotional roots of healthy child development and lifelong health. In this article we synthesize recommendations from a structured, multiyear field-building and research, policy, and practice agenda setting process to address these issues in children's health services.

Methods: Between Spring of 2013 and Winter of 2017, the field-building and agenda-setting process directly engaged more than 500 individuals and comprised 79 distinct agenda-setting and field-building activities and processes, including: 4 in-person meetings; 4 online crowdsourcing rounds across 10 stakeholder groups; literature and environmental scans, publications documenting ACEs, resilience, and protective factors among US children, and commissioning of this special issue of Academic Pediatrics; 8 in-person listening forums and 31 educational sessions with stakeholders; and a range of action research efforts with emerging community efforts. Modified Delphi processes and grounded theory methods were used and iterative and structured synthesis of input was conducted to discern themes, priorities, and recommendations.

Results: Participants discerned that sufficient scientific findings support the formation of an applied child health services research and policy agenda. Four overarching priorities for the agenda emerged: 1) translate the science of ACEs, resilience, and nurturing relationships into children's health services; 2) cultivate the conditions for cross-sector collaboration to incentivize action and address structural inequalities; 3) restore and reward for promoting safe and nurturing relationships and full engagement of individuals, families, and communities to heal trauma, promote resilience, and prevent ACEs; and 4) fuel "launch and learn" research, innovation, and implementation efforts. Four research areas arose as central to advancing these priorities in the short term. These are related to: 1) family-centered clinical protocols, 2) assessing effects on outcomes and costs, 3) capacity-building and accountability, and 4) role of provider self-care to quality of care. Finally, we identified 16 short-term actions to leverage existing policies, practices, and structures to advance agenda priorities and research priorities.

Conclusions: Efforts to address the high prevalence and negative effects of ACEs on child health are needed, including widespread and concrete understanding and strategies to promote awareness, resilience, and safe, stable, nurturing relationships as foundational to healthy child development and sustainable well-being throughout life. A paradigm-shifting evolution in individual, organizational, and collective mindsets, policies, and practices is required. Shifts will emphasize the centrality of relationships and regulation of emotion and stress to brain development as well as overall health. They will elevate relationship-centered methods to engage individuals, families, and communities in self-care related to ACEs, stress, trauma, and building the resilience and nurturing relationships science has revealed to be at the root of well-being. Findings reflect a palpable hope for prevention, mitigation, and healing of individual, intergenerational, and community trauma associated with ACEs and provide a road map for doing so.

Keywords: Medicaid; National Survey of Children's Health; adverse childhood experiences; agenda; child health; crowdsourcing; family engagement; medical home; pediatrics; resilience; self-care; social determinants of health; well-being.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Capacity Building
  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Child Health Services*
  • Child Health*
  • Child Welfare*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Delphi Technique
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Family Health*
  • Grounded Theory
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Health Policy
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Pediatrics
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Protective Factors
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Resilience, Psychological
  • United States