In 2021 TCK Training ran a groundbreaking survey on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and developmental trauma among Third Culture Kids (TCKs). Our primary objective was to get data on ACEs in TCKs; our secondary objective was to gain insights into other forms of childhood trauma experienced and witnessed by TCKs.
Following our first presentation of some initial insights at the FIGT2022 Families In Global Transition
conference in March 2022, there was incredible interest in our work. Next we provided a public presentation of our initial findings, which we offered as a 90 minute live webinar event in April 2022. Over 500 people registered for this event! It is now available as a free video on our virtual training and community platform: "Developmental Trauma in TCKs
Our first white paper, “Caution and Hope: The Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Globally Mobile Third Culture Kids
,” was published in June 2022. Six months later we released a second white paper with more detailed analysis — “TCKs at Risk: Risk Factors and Risk Mitigation for Globally Mobile Families
On this page you will find an FAQ with answers to questions we are often asked about our research. For more detailed information, you can also read our Methodology Report
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The rest of this section addresses questions many people have asked regarding this research. The following eight questions are answered below, and we have also created a Methodology Report which you can download for more detailed information.
What was the goal of the research?
The primary objective was to obtain quantitative data on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) among Third Culture Kids (TCKs) with international experiences, which could be compared to existing research into ACEs. The secondary objective was to gain insights into other types of developmental trauma TCKs experienced or witnessed first hand. We also want to share our results with the global community of TCK caregivers so that we can all use this research to improve our services to intercultural families worldwide.
Why did you only allow adults to answer the survey?
We had two reasons for this restriction. First, Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaires ask respondents to discuss their experiences up to the age of 18. This means that anyone younger than 18 cannot give a complete response and therefore their responses will not be directly comparable with existing ACE research. Second, when running a survey like this, particularly one which brings up some very emotionally difficult subjects, we have a duty of care to our survey participants. Minors cannot give genuine informed consent in this setting, so it would be unethical for us to solicit their responses.
What definition of ‘Third Culture Kid’ did you use? Why this definition?
For the purpose of the survey parameters, our definition was a person who experienced childhood international mobility and intercultural living, by spending at least one year before age 18 living outside their passport country with their family for reasons other than immigration (whether forced/chosen immigration).
We chose the limited definition of Third Culture Kids who had experienced international mobility for several reasons. First, while we would love to provide resources for all Cross Cultural Kids (and hope this survey will be the first of many research projects to be undertaken by TCK Training) choosing to hold ourselves to a limited scope with clearly defined parameters was important for delivering clear research with replicable results.
Second, many TCKs seeking support from mental health professionals found that their childhood traumas were discounted because international mobility was seen as a privilege incompatible with trauma. Therefore, one objective of the research was to determine if there was a connection between international mobility and childhood trauma in a population perceived as privileged.
Third, international mobility also brings up issues of legalities and social welfare safety nets. While some countries assume responsibility for the welfare of non-citizen minors resident within their borders, others do not. A child who experiences abuse while living outside their passport country, for example, may have fewer avenues for support, not know what those avenues are, or not have access to them due to language or cultural barriers.
How were the questions written?
We curated a series of questions to mirror the language of existing ACE score questionnaires. It was important that our ACE factor questions be similar enough to questions asked in existing ACE factor studies that we would be able to compare our results. This includes the subjective nature of childhood perceptions of safety. The question on emotional neglect, for example, takes into account whether a child feels loved and supported, even if in hindsight they know their parents loved them.
We made some small language adjustments to the questions, but most of our adjustments were in the instructions, to accommodate the different living situations of many TCKs. We also added a series of questions asking about additional types of developmental trauma. In addition, we asked a series of demographic questions, including questions regarding mobility, to enable us to sort the data and compare different groups. These questions were then reviewed by a group of expert advisors (see answer five, or our Methodology Report
, for more details).
What ethics oversight did the research have?
We assembled a group of expert advisors to review and improve our questions and additional materials, ensuring we treated our participants with care, especially with regard to their emotional welfare given the difficult subject matter we were asking them to engage with. These experts included two academic researchers (PhDs), a child psychologist, several therapists working primarily with expatriates and TCKs (both psychologists and counselors), international school educators, and international education consultants. (For more details on what this group did, please read our Methodology Report
How was the survey circulated?
After three months of review and testing, the survey was launched online in late June 2021. We used email, social media, and virtual groups to publicize the survey among various groups. We put information and regular updates out through our own networks (our newsletter, social media channels, etc) and reached out to influencers with wide networks in different types of TCK-related communities. We connected with adult TCKs of various ages and demographics, asking for their support to share the information with their own networks. We also connected with a number of academics, including those who had been involved in peer review and beta testing the survey.
How many responses did you receive?
Over the six months that the survey was active we received a total of 2,377 responses; we accepted 1,904 of these responses into our final data set. All our statistics are drawn from that pool of 1,904 complete responses. Information about our exclusion criteria and how we arrived at our data set of 1,904 responses can be found in our Methodology Report
What quality assurance measures were in place?
A number of parameters were placed around the survey responses to ensure quality in the resulting data set. This is a summary only; more information is available in our Methodology Report.
A double layer method to ensure respondents were over 18 years of age.
A double layer method to ensure respondents fit the TCK/international experience parameter.
The survey would not allow more than one response from a single IP address.
Responses were scanned for identical answers; none were detected.
Only complete responses were accepted.
Where a “none of the above” answer was given on key demographic markers, the full response was individually reviewed.
Random checks of the twice-reviewed human-calculated ACE scores for each individual response have found no mistakes in the calculations.