California Pediatricians Start Screening for Toxic Stress

By Emma Goss, Eyewitness News  | 

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) – Starting this year, California pediatricians may be screening your child for toxic stress during their routine checkups. It’s for anyone covered by MediCal, the state’s version of Medicaid insurance for low-income households. As of this year, pediatricians will be reimbursed by the state for Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) screenings. While they are voluntary, doctors and behavioral health professionals believe routine screenings for kids could help prevent health issues later in life.

“We know that when people aren’t feeling well, it’s both a component of their physical and mental state, and to determine what exactly is the cause, that’s difficult,” Jason Gifford, Kern Behavioral Health unit supervisor, and a licensed marriage and family therapist, said.

ACE screenings are a written state-approved questionnaire consisting of ten questions. Questions like, “has your parent been to prison? Have they divorced? Have they ever been too drunk or high to take care of you.” A parent can fill it out, or a child over the age of 12 can fill it out themselves. The ACE score is determined by adding up all “yes” responses.

Based on their child’s score, parents are educated on strategies to support their child, and are connected with behavioral services if appropriate.

Childhood trauma can have adverse effects on long-term health, producing higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.

“They can have twice the risk of these diseases, and even twelve times the risk of attempted suicide, or four times the risk of alcoholism,” Dr. Tintin Manuela-Abas, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in Bakersfield who is lead of ACE testing, said.