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Adverse Childhood Effects (ACEs)

Adverse Childhood Effects (ACEs)

landmark study, conducted between 1995 and 1997 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente on adverse childhood trauma  revealed that there was a strong correlation between a child’s exposure to traumatic experiences and their likelihood of developing certain diseases in adulthood. The study specified 10 categories of stressful or traumatic childhood events, including abuse, parental incarceration, and divorce or parental separation. 
























ACEs are common. About 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported that they had experienced at least one type of ACE, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs. 























Its research showed that sustained stress caused biochemical changes in the brain and body and drastically increased the risk of developing health problems and mental illness. ACEs have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. 


ACEs can have lasting, negative effects on health, well-being, and opportunity. These experiences can increase the risks of injury, sexually transmitted infections, maternal and child health problems, teen pregnancy, involvement in sex trafficking, and a wide range of chronic diseases and leading causes of death such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and suicide. ACEs and associated conditions, such as living in under-resourced or racially segregated neighborhoods, frequently moving, and experiencing food insecurity, can cause toxic stress (extended or prolonged stress). Ultimately, ACEs can lead to an early death.















































Toxic stress from ACEs can change brain development and affect such things as attention, decision-making, learning, and response to stress. Children growing up with toxic stress may have difficulty forming healthy and stable relationships. They may also have unstable work histories as adults and struggle with finances, jobs, and depression throughout life. These effects can also be passed on to their own children. Some children may face further exposure to toxic stress from historical and ongoing traumas due to systemic racism or the impacts of poverty resulting from limited educational and economic opportunities.

To learn more about ACEs and to take the quiz yourself, click here.

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Three Types of ACEs

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ACEs Increase Health Risks

Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention


Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention


Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Source: ACEs Connection


Source: ACEs Connection


Despite having ACEs, children have their own characteristics and experiences that protect them and help them develop resilience despite exposure to ACEs. Resilience is the result of a dynamic set of interactions between a person’s adverse experiences and their protective factors. This interaction is what determines the developmental path towards health and well–being or towards illness and dysfunction. No child is magically resilient or invulnerable to ACEs, just as no individual child is automatically doomed in the face of ACEs.


These protective factors can include a person’s own biological and developmental characteristics. But protective factors can also include characteristics of the family, community, and systems that mitigate the negative impacts of ACEs. Protective factors help explain how some people who have sustained a great deal of adversity as children have fared relatively well in adulthood. The presence of protective factors, particularly safe, stable, and nurturing relationships, can often mitigate the consequences of ACEs. Individuals, families, and communities can all influence the development of many protective factors throughout a child’s life that can impact his or her development.

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