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The Influence of Childhood Experiences

What are ACES?

Many of the risk factors we have discussed and identified are ACEs. ACEs stands for ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences.’ These experiences can included things like physical and emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver mental illness and household violence. Resilience plays an important role in the relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), mental health and long term outcomes.

Research around ACEs began back in 1995 highlighting that ACEs are common across all populations and the more ACEs experienced in childhood the greater chance of poorer outcomes later in life. In other words, as the number of ACEs increases so does the risk for negative outcomes. 

Babies are obviously very different from older children developmentally, including their ability to understand and process trauma.  A baby may be completely unaware of an ACE taking place, for example their father may end up going to prison. However, a baby could also be much more acutely impacted by the secondary effect of this same ACE: a sad, stressed and distracted mother.

Babies and young children do not have the developmental maturity to understand or process experiences of pain and trauma. For example, a baby would be unable to understand the death of their primary caregiver and would just experience the sense of being abandoned.

Research into ACEs has increased awareness of the lifetime impact of early adversity on children’s outcomes. The following video explains why this might be:

Toxic stress from ACEs can negatively affect children’s brain development, immune systems, and stress-response systems. These changes can affect children’s attention, decision-making, and learning. Children growing up with toxic stress may have difficulty forming healthy and stable relationships. The image below summarises what we have learnt so far:

‘There are clear inequalities in the prevalence of ACEs, which leads to
inequalities in impacts’

UCL Institute of Health Equity (2015)

While children from all backgrounds may experience ACEs, there is a higher chance of children growing up in disadvantaged areas with lower socioeconomic status to be exposed to numerous ACEs. The inequality leading to greater exposure therefore risks poorer long-term outcomes for these children.

Fortunately, there are actions that can buffer a child against the impact of ACEs and build their resilience. These includes:

  • Having time away from the source of trauma and fear
  • Engaging in activities that bring pleasure and happiness
  • An available, responsive adult who is supportive and consistent
  • Ensuring that services and early years settings are trauma-informed

What does this look like in Manchester? Have read of the document below:

Greater Manchester are working to respond to the challenges of ACEs and build resilience by becoming an ACE-aware, trauma-informed and trauma-responsive city.