CATEGORY/THEME: Innovative Methods and Statistics
Introduction: Research suggests that past and current adverse experiences influence life course development, including parenting quality, health, and child outcomes (Hughes, et al., 2017; Spieker, Oxford, Fleming, & Lohr, 2017). Assessing trauma and adverse life experiences, however, can pose issues of response burden and distress, particularly with lengthy questionnaires (Jorm, Kelly & Morgan, 2007). As a result, interest has grown in brief but valid measures of cumulative risk and adversity (e.g., Anda et al., 1999; Brugha & Cragg, 1990; Evans, Li, & Whipple, 2013; Kessler et al., 2010). This study evaluated the utility of the Life Challenges Scale (LCS), a new, single-item continuous scale, designed initially to provide a quick, low burden estimate of a parent’s lifetime exposure to challenging experiences suitable for use in very high-risk families.
Methods: Participants in the study (45 parents residing in a homeless shelter) were given the following prompt: “All people face challenging life experiences. Some are mild and some are severe. Looking back on your life as a whole, how would you rate the overall severity of challenges that have piled up in your life? Draw a line on the part of the scale to mark your rating. In drawing your line, consider both the number and the severity of challenges.” Directly below the prompt, participants marked a rating on a 20cm-long line to indicate the overall severity of challenges that have accumulated throughout their lives. The scale was anchored on either end, ranging from “Few mildly challenging experiences” (e.g., new school or job, returning to work, mild accident, moving to a new place) to “Many extremely challenging experiences,” (e.g., death of a parent/caregiver, family home destroyed, lived in a very dangerous place, no place to live, severe accident of self or family member).
Results: Tests of convergent validity indicated that LCS scores were moderately correlated with measures of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs; Felitti et al., 1998; Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013; r=.39, p=.008) and the Lifetime Events Questionnaire (Masten et al., 1999; r=.50, p<.001).
Conclusions: Findings suggest the potential of the LCS as an efficient, low burden measure of cumulative adversity with promising validity. Limitations of this initial study include the small sample and cross-sectional design. More research is needed to evaluate the reliability and validity of the LCS, particularly for studies in time-sensitive and trauma-sensitive contexts.