OBJECTIVES

Screening for parental adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in pediatric settings can be burdensome because of the questionnaire’s length and sensitive nature. Rapid screening tools may help address these challenges. We evaluated a 2-item short ACE measure developed for adults in a cross-sectional sample of mothers of young children in an urban pediatric emergency department.

METHODS

From January 2011 to March 2020, we administered the ACE questionnaire in English or Spanish to 3999 biological mothers of children aged <4 years in a pediatric emergency department in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We assessed sensitivity and specificity of a shortened 2-item ACE measure defined as report of childhood emotional abuse and/or household substance use, using 4+ ACEs on the full questionnaire as the standard. We assessed convergent validity by comparing associations of the 2-item and standard measures with maternal, household, and child outcomes using adjusted log-binomial regression.

RESULTS

Mothers were racially and ethnically diverse (54% Latina, 35% Black non-Latina); 94% of children were publicly insured. Thirteen percent of mothers reported childhood emotional abuse and 16% childhood household substance use; 23% reported at least 1 of these and 6% both. Compared with 4+ ACEs on the full questionnaire, the 2-item measure had sensitivity 88% and specificity 90%. In adjusted models, high adversity was associated with poor maternal, household, and child outcomes.

CONCLUSIONS

A 2-item ACE measure assessing childhood emotional abuse and household substance use may be useful in pediatric settings to identify mothers who may have experienced significant child adversity and inform development, testing, or provision of comprehensive family supports.

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