Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Demystified

What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumas that occur from birth to 18-years-old. They can cause lasting psychological harm and may lead to health issues later in life, including – mental illness, sexually transmitted infections, unplanned pregnancies and more. This type of trauma is more common than one might think. Nationally, nearly two-thirds of adults identified as having had at least one adverse childhood experience, and research shows that the higher the number of ACEs the more likely it is that that person’s health and behavior will be impacted by their trauma later in life.

What are these ACEs? What does this mean?

In the original study produced by the CDC-Kaiser Permanente, researchers narrowed down ACEs to produce a 10 question survey broken down into three areas: household dysfunction, abuse, and neglect. Since then, additional ACEs have been added, to include consideration for other types of childhood trauma, such as – involvement with the foster care system, living in a war zone or unsafe neighborhood, losing a family member due to deportation, etc.

ACEs Impact in Arizona

According to research from the Arizona Adverse Childhood Experiences Consortium, “[…] nearly 70,000 Arizona children have more than five ACEs.”

On the ACEs test, a score of 4 or more is considered high. At this level, the risk for things like chronic pulmonary lung disease, hepatitis, depression, and suicide increases by over 200%! This unfortunate statistic indicates that Arizona children are experiencing a significantly higher number of Adverse Childhood Experiences than kids living elsewhere in the United States.

Why do Adverse Childhood Experiences matter?

As children accumulate ACEs over the course of their childhood, they produce toxic levels of stress that can significantly impact their health and behavior for the rest of their lives. For example:

  • 1 in every 16 adults with no ACEs smoke cigarettes.
  • 1 in every 9 adults with 1-3 ACEs smoke cigarettes.
  • 1 in every 6 adults with 4-10 ACEs smoke cigarettes.

Here, the correlation is clear. As the number of ACEs a child has increased, so does the chance of smoking, which can lead to other health issues like COPD and lung disease. However, risk of smoking (and all its associated health problems) isn’t the only thing that increases with a child’s ACEs score, for example:

  • 1 in every 69 adults with no ACEs are alcoholics.
  • 1 in every 9 adult with 1-3 ACEs are alcoholics.
  • 1 in every 6 adults with 4-10 ACEs are alcoholics.

Again, the correlation is clear. As the trauma numbers increase so does the risk for adverse behavior and health issues, including – alcohol/nicotine addiction, drug abuse, heart disease, depression, suicidal/self-harming behavior, unplanned pregnancy, contraction of STDs/STIs, etc. For additional information on the ways toxic stress levels from ACEs impact child development and behavior, check out this report from the Arizona Adverse Childhood Experiences Consortium.

What can I do to help?

There is no shame in having had an adverse childhood experience, or even several. However, if you or your child have undergone multiple ACEs, it is important to work on strengthening yourself and your family. Dealing with trauma isn’t easy, so don’t be afraid to ask for additional support! Seek help from a mental health professional, join a support group and ask your network of friends and family for their help as you heal, build resilience and strengthen your family. Self-care is crucial to your well-being, especially during this time, so make sure you are taking all the time you need to invest in yourself!

If you haven’t had any adverse childhood experiences, you can still help! Raising awareness in our communities about ACEs is critical to helping those in need and preventing high ACE scores for Arizona’s children in the future. Educating yourself about ACES, offering to help a neighbor, family member or friend struggling to heal or volunteering for an organization committed to helping individuals who have experienced ACEs are all great ways to help!

How do I learn more?

Interested in learning more about ACEs but don’t know where to start? Child Crisis Arizona offers two workshops that deal specifically with this topic – Adverse Childhood Experiences and Parenting Through Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Our Adverse Childhood Experiences workshop explores the current research being done on ACEs and promotes discussion about how we can create resiliency in our families and communities.

Parenting Through Adverse Childhood Experiences is a follow-up to our first ACEs workshop. It offers participants a brief review of ACEs before delving into how trauma is passed on through families and what individuals can do to help break that cycle. This workshop is for anyone who has a child who has experienced ACEs and caregivers who may be struggling to find a balance between their parenting duties and healing from their own adverse childhood experiences.

Click here to explore our Spring 2018 offerings and register for a workshop on ACEs today!

Additional ACEs Resources

Guest Blogger: Chelsea Grieve

Chelsea Grieve is a Program Specialist at Child Crisis Arizona where she provides support to our shelter, family education and counseling programs. She also teaches parenting education classes, runs skill building groups for children and teens, and is a certified trainer for nonviolent crisis intervention, conscious discipline and active parenting. Chelsea is a committed advocate for child welfare and has been active in the movement to end violence against children since 2006.