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Medi-Cal Recipients To Be Screened For Adverse Childhood Experiences, But How?

A mother and her child walk through a field.
A mother and her child walk through a field.
Robert Lang Photography/Getty Images

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This year, California will become the first state to pay doctors to do screenings for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on Medi-Cal patients. First studied in 1998 but there is now a growing body of research to suggest that ongoing stressful events can trigger changes in brain and body chemistry among young children and teens that can increase their risk of developing diseases like asthma, depression and even cancer. 

Parents and children who opt in to the screening will start by filling out a questionnaire that asks questions about quality of home life and their interactions with their parents or caregivers, such as whether the child has lived with a parent who went to jail, whether the parent has ever insulted or humiliated their child or whether the parents has ever worried there wasn’t enough food to eat at home. Doctors will then review and discuss responses with the parents or caregivers. While the results of these screenings will be protected by doctor-patient confidentiality and therefore not shared with the state, the hope of advocates is that there will be more general data that can be aggregated and used to improve care for those who score high on the ACE screening. Some, however, worry that it’s too soon for universal screening to be implemented, and that until there is better data on the possible negative effects of screening for ACEs and what the most effective intervention tools are.

Today on AirTalk, we’ll talk more about the new screening process, how it’s conducted, what advocates hope it will accomplish and what some opponents worry might be unintended consequences. Have a question or comment? Join our live conversation by calling 866-893-5722.


Dayna Long, M.D., pediatrician and director of the Center for Child and Community Health at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland; she helped develop the state-approved ACE screening tool for children and teens

Jessica Dym Bartlett, co-director of early childhood research at Child Trends, a research organization focused exclusively on improving the lives of children and youth