Report: High Rate of Adverse Childhoods in North Coast Counties

An agency that administers tobacco tax-funded children’s programs states that Humboldt and Mendocino counties have the highest percentage in the state of adult residents who’ve had adverse childhood experiences.

At its April 19 meeting, the Board of Supervisors fielded an annual report from First 5 Humboldt, the commission that oversees spending of Proposition 10 tobacco tax revenue on children’s and families’ programs.

First 5 Executive Director Mary Ann Hansen highlighted sections of the agency’s 2015 Annual Community Report that she said “tell a particularly important story regarding the children of Humboldt County.”

The report states that “with Mendocino, Humboldt County has the highest proportion of adults in California who have experienced four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) when they were children.”

The chance of developing serious health conditions “goes up dramatically with 4 or more ACES,” according to the report.

It also states that Humboldt County has the state’s highest percentage of children with “special needs” — Hansen said nearly one out of every five local children are identified that way — as well as “a child abuse and neglect report rate that is nearly 50 percent higher than the California average.”

While Hansen acknowledged that the county’s substantiated rate of child abuse is “about average,” she said that report rates are “actually predictive of death before the age of five by accident or injury so it’s not a number to be ignored.”

According to the community report, reduced smoking has led to a 40 percent drop in First 5 Humboldt’s tobacco tax revenue since 2004. But the agency has established a “sustainability fund” to maintain priority programs and served 5,919 local children up to five years of age in 2015.

First 5 supervises 16 social parent and children’s playgroups in the county, including five in Southern Humboldt, and its funding contributions include six family and community resource centers and the Betty Chinn Day Center.

The agency also partners with the Humboldt County Office of Education to fund the Mental Health Collaborative focusing on families and children up to eight years old.

Hansen said First 5’s free services are “focused on strengthening families” and added, “Our focus is about prevention.”

Supervisor Estelle Fennell vouched for the effectiveness of the agency’s programs, having seen playgroups in action in Shelter Cove and Weott.

“Those are outlying areas and they don’t have that many areas where the parents and kids can get together,” she said. “It puts people together, so they can form that foundation and support each other as they bring their kids up and provide a healthy childhood for them.”

Board Chair Mark Lovelace noted that 2015 marked the retirement of First 5’s long-serving former executive director, Wendy Rowan. He told Hansen, “It’s been great having you step in and as you know, I’m a huge fan of the work of First 5.”