Last reviewed December 2023
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One Minute Guide to Adverse Childhood Experiences
What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?
Adverse Childhood Experiences (sometimes known as ACEs) is a term which refers to stressful, complex or traumatic events that children are exposed to as they are growing up.
When a child has faced adversity we know that they have lived through very difficult and challenging circumstances. The negative impact that adversity has on a child, where they find it difficult to cope, is classed as a ‘Trauma’ and that can manifest itself in mental, physical, emotional or developmental ill health.
What does adversity look like?
Adversity can be a single event or prolonged threats to a
child’s safety, security, trust or body integrity. These
experiences directly affect the child and their environment;
they can therefore affect the way a child feels, behaves and
views the outside world.
What are the protective factors of Adverse Childhood Experiences?
- Steady, consistent, positive adult relationships within the family and peers
- Problem solving skills and resilience
- Emotional regulation and literacy
- Access to a supportive wider community
- Compassionate and supportive professionals that are trauma aware, trauma informed and trauma responsive.
- Early intervention from support, therapeutic or safeguarding services
What are the implications for practitioners?Show detailsThere are many reasons why some children and young adults will have high levels of Adverse Childhood Experiences, it is important, therefore to identify the pre-existing vulnerabilities and risks present in order to reduce the long term impact.
Reducing the effects of toxic stress early
For those who have experiences Adverse Childhood Experiences there are a wide range of responses that can help to reduce its effect, such as, therapeutic sessions with mental health professionals, meditation, exercise and walking in nature. Helping a child to build core life-skills, including resilience, will reduce the effects of toxic stress.
- Think about how the experiences will have an impact on the child’s healthy development and on their behaviours; all behaviour is a communication!
- Recognise the signs, and see beyond a child as just ‘acting out’. Be empathetic and curious to their needs
- Try to help them become more grounded, give them choices and allow them to feel more in control
- Understand that it is likely this will have an impact on any attachment for that child and there will be mistrust at play
- Try and build a relationship with the child that is different to ones they have experienced before
- Remember that Adverse Childhood Experiences tend to be passed from generation to generation
- Follow a trauma informed, relational approach.
To learn more about enabling a child to develop, learn, adapt and thrive see below for resources.
Adverse Childhood Experiences can affect anyone at anytime regardless of their income and social level. Early intervention can reduce toxic stress and the long term impact.
More Guidance, Resources & Training
- Adversity, Trauma & Resilience WSCP webpage
- Education Psychology Service Relate to Educate Embedding a relational approach in schools. View the 5 minute guide – why to adopt this approach
- NSPCC—how childhood trauma affects child brain development
- Fight or flight response explained Fight-or-flight response | Definition, Hormones, & Facts | Britannica
- Risk & Resilience TRAINING
- Working definition of Trauma from gov.uk