6 min readDealing With Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)posted over 1 year ago

Our childhood experiences can have a significant impact on how we are able to grow and develop physically, mentally, and socially. We all grow up to experience a variety of attachments within our various relationships, some positive and some negative.

“Children’s development and mental health are affected by various factors, including the environments they are raised in, the relationships they build and their experiences. Child development refers to the physical, cognitive, emotional and social growth that occurs throughout a child and young person’s life. Children’s mental health – their cognitive, behaviour and social well-being is affected by this development, as well as a range of factors, including trauma and abuse. All aspects of children’s health and development work together, form their overall well-being.” (NSPCC).

Child Abuse Statistics

According to the Office for National Statistics - Child Abuse in England and Wales: March 2020

  1. The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that one in five adults aged 18 to 74 years experienced at least one form of child abuse, whether emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or witnessing domestic violence or abuse, before the age of 16 years (8.5 million people).
  2. In addition, an estimated 1 in 100 adults aged 18 to 74 years experienced physical neglect before the age of 16 years (481,000 people); this includes not being taken care of or not having enough food, shelter or clothing, but it does not cover all types of neglect. 
  3. An estimated 3.1 million adults aged 18 to 74 years were victims of sexual abuse before the age of 16 years; this includes abuse by both adult and child perpetrators.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are “highly stressful, and potentially traumatic, events or situations that occur during childhood and/or adolescence. They can be a single event, or prolonged threats to, and breaches of, the young person’s safety, security, trust or bodily integrity.” (Young Minds, 2018).

Surveys conducted with adults inform us that at least 10% will have experienced some form of abuse during their childhood. They also tell us that 10% or more of the population will have experienced four or more ACEs before the age of 18, however, it is difficult to take these statistics into account as it is not fully representative of different groups.

Some examples of ACEs can include:

  1. Physical Abuse
  2. Physical Neglect or growing up in poverty
  3. Psychological Neglect
  4. Sexual Abuse
  5. Emotional/Psychological Abuse
  6. Exposure to/witnessing regular domestic abuse
  7. Living with/or having a close relationship with an individual who had mental health problems
  8. Living with/or having a close relationship with an individual who abused alcohol/and or drugs
  9. Living with/or having a close relationship with an individual who went into custody
  10. Losing a parent/carer through divorce, death, or abandonment

The Impact of ACEs

When an individual experiences ACEs, this can significantly impact their future. When considering how an ACE can impact a person we must consider both their physical and mental health. For example, a child who grows up in a positive family environment may be much more confident to share how they are feeling, feel supported and loved by their family and friends, have a higher level of confidence in their own identity, and feel safe. Therefore, a child growing up within this environment may be better able to achieve positive outcomes in later life.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

ACEs can create significant difficulties for children and adults when they are trying to form healthy relationships and attachments. It is however important to note that not all children who experience ACEs will be subject to the same impacts and can be less susceptible to issues in later life. Every person is an individual and one size won’t always fit all. One in three diagnosed mental health conditions in adulthood directly relate to ACEs.

Some examples of impacts can include:

  1. Increased risk of health problems in adulthood, such as cancer and heart disease.
  2. Increased risk of mental health difficulties, aggression, and becoming a victim of violence/abuse/exploitation.
  3. An increase in the risk of mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.
  4. The length and frequency of ACEs can determine their impact on their development and health.
  5. The ability to recognise and manage different emotions.
  6. Being unable to manage and maintain healthy friendships and other relationships.
  7. The ability to manage behaviour in educational settings.
  8. Difficulties coping with emotions safely without causing harm to self or others.

Building a Culture of Safety to prevent ACEs

A whole school approach is required to ensure that all employees and learners are safe from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. This includes adhering to robust safeguarding and well-being policy and procedures. 

Organisations should aim to:

  1. Provide a supportive environment whereby learners and their parents/carers can speak up if they are experiencing abuse, neglect, or exploitation. 
  2. Work with the whole family to gain the full picture wherever possible or appropriate.
  3. Ensure joint partnership working is effective and information sharing protocols are in place.
  4. Enrich the experiences of all learners through the promotion of a supportive culture of well-being and emotional resilience.
  5. Ensure that there is a clear process of reporting issues or concerns or seeking support.
  6. Use an appropriate trauma-informed response when working with learners who have experienced or are experiencing ACEs.
  7. Increase awareness and understanding of well-being and safeguarding issues.
  8. Be responsive to the early warning signs of abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
  9. Access early intervention for families.
  10. Provide education, guidance, and support to employees working with those with well-being or mental health issues with learners.
  11. Be responsive to learners that are identified to be affected directly and indirectly by parental issues.
  12. Provide support to parents and families that may be experiencing well-being, social, physical, or mental ill health issues and conditions.

Further information and support services:

Contact your local Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) to discuss Early Help Assessment or Child Protection.

MIND Charity:    0300 123 3393    https://www.mind.org.uk/

Anxiety UK:    03444 775 774    https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/

PAPYRUS:    0800 068 4141     https://www.papyrus-uk.org/

NSPCC:     0808 800 5000     https://www.nspcc.org.uk/ 

Prisoners' Families Helpline:    0808 808 2003    www.prisonersfamilies.org

Cruse Bereavement:    0808 808 1677   www.cruse.org.uk/get-support/ 

Refuge Domestic abuse: 0808 2000 247     www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk 

Advice for the families of people who use drugs and alcohol: Advice for the families of people who use drugs – NHS - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

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Rachael Bishop

Rachael Bishop

Rachael has over 18 years of experience, paired with an extensive training record within the safeguarding field.