In this section

  • Overview
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences
  • Overview

    Trauma and adversity experienced during childhood and later life can have huge impacts on people’s lives and contribute to vulnerability around harm, abuse and exploitation.

    Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are highly stressful and traumatic events experienced during childhood or adolescence which have negative, lasting effects on health and wellbeing. They include

    • abuse (physical, sexual or emotional)
    • neglect (physical or emotional)
    • challenges in the home (for example domestic violence, substance misuse, mental health difficulties, parental separation or divorce, imprisonment and parental loss).

    These experiences can have significant and life-long impacts on physical, psychological and social development. They can increase the likelihood that people will take part in risk-taking and health-harming behaviours, and that they will become a victim or perpetrator of violence, abuse or exploitation.

    Traumatic experiences can also occur in adulthood, and have similar impacts on health, wellbeing and vulnerability to harm, abuse and exploitation.

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences

    Research has shown that, compared to those with no ACEs, people who have experienced four or more ACEs are:

    • four times more likely to have low levels of mental wellbeing and life satisfaction
    • seven times more likely to have been involved in violence
    • eleven times more likely to have used illicit drugs
    • eleven times more likely to have been imprisoned.

    (as reported in a 2014 study by Mark Bellis, Karen Hughes, Nicola Leckenby, Clare Perkins and Helen Lowey, ‘National household survey of adverse childhood experiences and their relationship with resilience to health-harming behaviours in England’)

    • ACEs are common in all population groups – it is estimated that 47% of the population in England and Wales have experienced at least one ACE, and that 10% have experienced four or more ACEs (Bellis, Hughes, Leckenby, Perkins and Lowey, 2014)
    • the physical, psychological and social impacts of trauma can be passed down through generations, increasing the likelihood that children and grandchildren will also encounter traumatic and adverse experiences
    • trauma has complex effects and impacts everyone differently – this includes depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anti-social behaviour and aggressive behaviour
    • coping strategies to manage trauma can cause further harm, for example if they involve reliance on addictive substances such as drugs and alcohol
    • ACEs and trauma can alter the physical structure and workings of the brain, particularly during childhood and adolescence – this can lead to impulsive, high-risk behaviour and difficulties with decision-making, communication and controlling thoughts and emotions.
    • people who have experienced trauma and adversity may feel frightened, depressed, angry or ashamed
    • it’s important to be mindful of past trauma and recognise that it may influence people’s actions and behaviour, ability to understand and talk about experiences of harm, abuse and exploitation, and their engagement with support services.