What are ACEs?

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are some of the most intense, and frequently experienced, sources of stress that children may suffer early in life. They include multiple types of abuse including:

  • neglect
  • violence between parents or caregivers
  • alcohol and substance abuse
  • peer, community and collective violence.

When the stress of these experiences is severe or prolonged, and a child or young person is unable to process, what should be a normal survival response becomes “toxic stress”. This alters the functioning of the brain and has a long-lasting and injurious impact on the developing mind which we call “trauma”. This trauma affects the way those suffering it think and act throughout their lives. Understanding such mental and emotional trauma is key to understanding the behaviour of millions of people.

Global research consistently shows an association between multiple ACEs and health harming behaviours, physical and mental health in adulthood. The strongest associations are seen between violence perpetration and victimisation, mental ill-health and substance misuse.

Poor outcomes are not inevitable

The term Adverse Childhood Experiences derives from a study carried out in the 1990s in California and the first thing to note is that ACEs are common. In England, of the 10 referred to in the original study, around half of all adults have experienced at least one form of adversity in childhood; 9% have experienced four or more.

But poor outcomes are not inevitable. Early intervention, particularly in childhood, can make a difference and provision of ACE-aware services, such as Kent Resilience Hub and We Are With You, is growing, in Kent and elsewhere.

Protective factors

The following infographic from our friends at WAVE Trust offers that the presence of protective factors, such as safe, stable relationships and a supportive community, can often mitigate against the negative impacts of adversity in childhood.

Often, however, there are challenges around effective engagement and the often time-limited nature of provision, and needs may sometimes remain unmet and intergenerational cycles may inadvertently be perpetuated. That is why at Angel Lane we want for there to be a whole-system approach to making available more timely and accessible support and interventions, achieved only by:

  • Attaining greater efficiency/effectiveness within existing provision;
  • Focusing on the needs of individuals, families and communities and what they say they want, fully involving them – indeed working together – to co-create and co-produce the projects, services and community involvement activities of the future;
  • Investing goodwill and sponsorship (if not time and economic resources) in ideas and innovation and developing future leaders who can come from anywhere – inside or outside of the system;
  • Generating and replicating sustainable services, activities and support outside of and complementary to the system as it currently exists (new capacity);
  • Shifting the emphasis towards prevention.

For more information on ACEs, go to our Resources page or please get in touch with us at hello@angellane.org.uk