Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences
Adverse Childhood Experiences – or ACEs for short – are specified traumatic events occurring before the age of 18. It is important for professionals (medical, social, health), organisations and communities to have a good understanding of ACEs, in order to respond to the impact ACEs can have on people and communities. There is always hope; by providing support we can overcome the long-term effects of childhood adversity.
ACEs can include direct experiences (such as sexual, physical or verbal abuse) and indirect experiences such as parental separation, substance misuse, mental illness, prison or domestic violence. Some studies include emotional and physical neglect as additional ACEs.
- Nearly half of people in England experience at least one ACE, with around 9% experiencing four or more ACEs
- The more ACEs a person experiences, the higher the risk of poorer health and social outcomes later in life.
- People with six or more ACEs die on average 20 years younger than people with no ACEs
Why we need to act on ACEs
Being exposed to ACEs in childhood can increase the risk of developing health-harming behaviours. These behaviours then lead to an increased risk of poor physical and mental health later in life (including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety) and ultimately early death, as well as negative social outcomes, such as low levels of education, poor employment prospects and involvement in criminal activity. ACEs are strongly associated with the development of long-term conditions and a substantial increase in the use of health and care resources.
Watch this video produced by Public Health Wales to show the impact ACEs can have on two generations of one family:
Listen to this ground-breaking TED talk by US Paediatrician Dr Nadine Burke Harris, who has dedicated her career to reducing the impact of ACEs and building resilience.