Our View

Southwest Missouri, we have a problem — an epidemic, to be candid.

Child abuse and neglect.

Children witnessing violence in the home.

Children growing up in homes with substance abuse problems.

All are what are called adverse childhood experiences. All are indicators of serious, lifelong health problems.

And all are out of the box for our area.

A recent report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people with a history of adverse childhood experiences are at significantly higher risk of dying from five of the top 10 leading causes of death later in life — heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, diabetes and suicide

And the more types of these traumas a person has, the higher their risk for negative health outcomes, according to Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director.

The CDC reported that childhood trauma is linked to 1.9 million cases of heart disease annually — the leading cause of death in this country, 2.5 million cases of obesity and of being overweight, and 21 million cases of depression.

You get the picture.

But to get the full picture, you need to know this: The number of children who are entering or re-entering state custody in one form or another — foster care, group homes, relative care or residential settings — is significantly higher here. These are the children of abuse and neglect, who have experienced violence and substance abuse in the home.

In Missouri, the rate of children entering or re-entering state custody was 5 per 1,000 in 2017 (the last year such data was available.)

For Jasper County and nearby Lawrence County, the rate was 7.4 children per 1,000; for Barry County it is 7.5 children per thousand — all about 50% higher than the state average.

For Newton County it was 6.4 children per 1,000. Better, but still bad.

McDonald County was 11.2 children per thousand — more than twice the state average.

The numbers, by the way, come from the annual Missouri Kid’s Count survey. This problem repeats in many counties across southern Missouri

The CDC’s report is a warning and a reminder that we can’t talk about health care costs without talking about causes. And we can’t bring our costs under control until we bring our social ills — our epidemic — under control.

We are just talking health consequences here, but there are many other social costs. Adverse childhood experiences also contribute to high school drop out rates, for example, as many as 1.5 million a year, according to the CDC.

Why we are so much higher here is a question for experts.

Getting involved, however, needs to be owned by all of us — or, as Schuchat said in an interview, by “parents, families, neighborhoods, schools, spiritual communities, businesses and government.”

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