Adverse childhood experiences

Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on lifelong health and opportunity – so it’s not surprising they’ve become an important public health issue.

Much of the core research in this area is referred to as adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, and parental mental illness is cited as one such experience that can affect health in later life. Findings have shown that as the number of adverse experiences a young person faces increases, so does the risk of negative outcomes, such as health-harming behaviour, chronic health conditions, low life potential and even early death.

A survey with adults in Wales carried out by Public Health Wales and Bangor University found that, compared to people who hadn’t had any adverse childhood experiences, those with four or more were 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 traumatic and stressful experiences, it can have a long-lasting impact on their ability to think, learn and interact with others. But Our Time does not believe this future is inevitable.

Along with our work and the work of many other charities and organisations, 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. We all have a part to play in preventing adversity and raising awareness of adverse childhood experiences.

You can help by:

  • preventing household adversity
  • supporting parents and families
  • building resilience in children and wider communities
  • enquiring about adverse childhood experiences routinely in your services to respond appropriately
  • encouraging wider awareness and understanding of adverse childhood experiences and their impact on health and behaviour
  • using interactions with adults in services, such as homelessness, addiction, prison or maternity services, to also consider the impacts on their children or future children

Safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments are essential to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to ensure all children reach their full potential.

Research

Much of the initial research on adverse childhood experiences stems from the United States. Below are just a few of the resources, sharing their expertise and findings.

How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime

Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.

The Science of Adversity

President and CEO of Turnaround for Children Pamela Cantor M.D. explains the science of adversity and how we can use this information to design better learning environments to help all children reach their full potential.

Research from Harvard University

Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child answers FAQs about ACEs.