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Adverse Childhood Experiences:


What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s)?


Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are traumatic events that happen to children between the ages of 0 and 17 years old. A person can certainly experience traumatic events after the age of 17, but these traumatic incidents or prolonged exposure to various trauma has a measurable impact on child physical and mental development. Some of these ACEs might be:

1. Experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect.
2. Witnessing violence in the home or community.
3. Having a family member attempt or die by suicide.


The environment can also undermine a child's sense of safety, stability, and bonding, such as living with:

1. Substance use problems.
2. Mental health problems.
3. Instability due to parental separation or household members being in jail or prison.

It should be noted that the above listed examples above are not a complete list of adverse experiences. Many other traumatic experiences could impact health and wellbeing also.
Chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse problems are linked to ACEs. ACEs can also have a negative impact on education, job prospects, and earning potential. However, ACEs can be prevented.


The Scope of the Problem


ACEs are common. About 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported they had experienced at least one type of ACE before age 18, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs.  It is estimated that north of 80% of adults in the United States today have experienced at least 2 ACEs during their childhood, putting them at a significantly higher risk of serious physical and mental health problems.

Preventing ACEs could potentially reduce many health conditions. For example, by preventing ACEs, up to 1.9 million heart disease cases and 21 million depression cases could have been potentially avoided.

Some children are at greater risk than others. Women and several racial/ethnic minority groups were at greater risk for experiencing four or more types of ACEs in their childhood.

ACEs are costly. As of 2020, the yearly cost of treating ACEs and the conditions they cause was $112 billion dollars in the United States alone.  A 10% reduction in ACEs in North America alone could equate to an annual savings of $56 billion dollars. This cost is not only paid for by tax dollars and government programs, but also private companies, insurance providers and the families themselves.


What are the Consequences of Adverse Childhood Experiences?


ACEs can negatively affect health, well-being, education, and career prospects. The effects of these experiences can include injuries, sexually transmitted infections, maternal and child health problems (like teen pregnancy, pregnancy complications, and fetal death), involvement in sex trafficking, and a wide range of chronic diseases and leading causes of death like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and suicide.


Stress (extended or prolonged stress) can be caused by ACEs and associated social determinants of health, like living in poor neighborhoods, moving a lot, and experiencing food insecurity. Stress from ACEs can negatively affect a child's brain development, immune system, and stress response system. Children's attention, decision-making, and learning can be affected by these changes.

Toxic stress can make it hard for children to form healthy relationships as well. As adults, they may also struggle with finances, jobs, and depression. These effects can also be passed on to their own children. Children can also be exposed to toxic stress due to systemic racism or poverty resulting from limited education and economic opportunities.



For more information about Adverse Childhood Experiences, click here.

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