What are ACEs?

Adverse Childhood Experiences

A large family of well-conducted studies in the United States led by Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda since 1997 have shown clear links between adverse childhood experiences and later adult health across a wide range including heart disease, stroke, addictions and obesity.  Other related studies show links between early adversity and offending behaviour.

A helpful summary of the Adverse Childhood Experiences study is available on this US government webpage

Put together with the wider literature on different kinds of childhood adversity (click for a reference list), there is now little doubt that adverse experiences in childhood, especially at critical times such as the first 1001 days, can have longlasting negative effects on health and wellbeing.


Importance of early years

The experiences that children have in the first few years of life, from before birth, are particularly crucial.  This is a stage of rapid brain development across all areas.  While the brain remains “plastic” throughout our lives, some experiences during early childhood can have a lifelong impact.

This graphic summarises some of the research in this area.  It is important to add that if the early years are critical, this also means they are the best time for effective intervention.  A report by Susan Deacon for the Scottish Government, called Joining the Dots, sets out some detail and evidence.


Defining adversity and trauma

The precise definitions of what is, or is not, adversity and how this differs from psychological trauma are debated both in research literature and in public discussion.

The ACE studies used a convenient questionnaire made up of 10 experiences that are often difficult for children and their families.  Other studies use different lists.  There is no evidence that any of these is better than any other – what is the case is that the wider the definition, the larger the effect tends to be.

In Highland Council, we aim to use an understanding that can be adapted to the individual situations and experiences of each child and their family.  So we take adversity to be any event or experience that disrupts child development and impacts on wellbeing.

A powerpoint presentation, with notes, explaining the rationale for this approach can be viewed by clicking here