Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) include a range of stressful events that children can be exposed to when growing up. Evidence shows that children who are maltreated or who grow up in homes with problems such as domestic violence, drug or alcohol problems or criminal behaviour have poorer educational and employment prospects are more likely to develop health-harming and anti-social behaviours, more likely to perform poorly in school and more likely to be involved in crime. Similarly, the range of different adversities used can be grouped under eight broad headings:

  • poverty, debt, financial pressures;
  • child abuse/child protection concerns;
  • family violence/domestic violence;
  • parental illness/disability;
  • parental substance abuse;
  • parental mental illness;
  • family separation/bereavement/ imprisonment;
  • parental offending, anti-social behaviour.

Research Studies in Hertfordshire, Luton, Northamptonshire and Wales concluded that preventing ACEs or intervening early would not only lessen the prevalence of health-harming behaviours and prevent unintended teenage pregnancy, but also prevent violent behaviour, thus helping to break the cycle of adversity that families can become trapped into.

"By stopping abuse, neglect and other harmful experiences faced by children we could prevent around a third of all high-risk drinking, a quarter of smoking and as much as 60 per cent of violence in adults."

Further reports detail how Adverse Childhood Experiences are associated with chronic ill health in later life such as the development of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and ultimately premature death therefore preventing or intervening at the earliest opportunity must be a principle that is embedded within all agencies.