The Philadelphia Urban ACE Study report provides findings on the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) of Philadelphia residents. Past studies, including the seminal 1998 Kaiser study by Felliti and Anda, have confirmed the negative impact of ACEs, such as physical, emotional and sexual abuse and household dysfunction, on health behaviors and health outcomes in adulthood. However, most of these findings have been confirmed in studies composed of primarily white, middle-class, and highly educated individuals. The Institute for Safe Families (ISF) formed the ACE Task Force in 2012 with an interest in examining the prevalence and impact of ACEs in Philadelphia, an urban city with a socially and racially diverse population.
ISF contracted with Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) to develop and conduct a survey of childhood adversity exposures among Philadelphia residents in the fall of 2012. PHMC contracted Social Science Research Solutions to conduct the survey as a follow-up to PHMC’s 2012 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey (SEPA HHS).
A total of 1,784 adults completed the Philadelphia Urban ACE Survey for a response rate of 67.1%. The survey found a higher prevalence of ACEs than found in previous studies. In particular, 33.2% of Philadelphia adults experienced emotional abuse and 35% experienced physical abuse during their childhood. Approximately 35% of adults grew up in a household with a substance-abusing member; 24.1% lived in a household with someone who was mentally ill; and 12.9% lived in a household with someone who served time or was sentenced to serve time in prison.
The Philadelphia Urban ACE Survey also examined the stressors that exist in the communities where people live. The study found that 40.5% of Philadelphia adults witnessed violence while growing up, which includes seeing or hearing someone being beaten, stabbed or shot. Over one-third (34.5%) of adults reported experiencing discrimination based on their race or ethnicity, while almost three in ten adults (27.3%) reported having felt unsafe in their neighborhoods or not trusting their neighbors during childhood. In all, over 37% of Philadelphia respondents reported four or more ACEs. The findings from this study suggest the need for services that address the unique environmental stressors experienced in urban neighborhoods to mitigate their impact on individuals and prevent ACEs.