Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful events occurring in childhood including
- domestic violence
- parental abandonment through separation or divorce
- a parent with a mental health condition
- being the victim of abuse (physical, sexual and/or emotional)
- being the victim of neglect (physical and emotional)
- a member of the household being in prison
- growing up in a household in which there are adults experiencing alcohol and drug use problems.
The term was originally developed in the US for the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study which found that as the number of ACEs increased, so did the risk of experiencing a range of health conditions in adulthood. There have been numerous other studies which have found similar findings including in Wales and England.
ACEs and health inequalities
Preventing ACEs should be seen within the wider context of tackling societal inequalities. While ACEs are found across the population, there is more risk of experiencing ACEs in areas of higher deprivation.
ACEs have been found to have lifelong impacts on health and behaviour and they are relevant to all sectors and involve all of us in society. We all have a part to play in preventing adversity and raising awareness of ACEs. Resilient communities have an important role in action on ACEs.
An ACE survey with adults in Wales found that compared to people with no ACEs, those with four or more ACEs are more likely to:
- have been in prison
- develop heart disease
- frequently visit the GP
- develop type 2 diabetes
- have committed violence in the last 12 months
- have health-harming behaviours (high-risk drinking, smoking, drug use).
When children are exposed to adverse and stressful experiences, it can have long-lasting impact on their ability to think, interact with others and on their learning.
ACEs are not Destiny
ACEs should not be seen as someone’s destiny. There is much that can be done to offer hope and build resilience in children, young people and adults who have experienced adversity in early life.