Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Among these are physical and emotional abuse, neglect, parental mental illness, and domestic violence. ACEs increase a child’s risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, low academic achievement, and substance misuse later in life. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have a significant impact on future victimization and perpetration of violence, as well as lifelong health and opportunity. The term ACEs was coined in the US for a survey, which found that the number of ACEs increased the risk of adult health issues. Numerous other studies, including in Wales and England, found similar results.
Children thrive in environments that are safe, stable, and family-centred. Sadly, children involved in adverse upbringings have been exposed to negative and often traumatic situations that can last a lifetime. Adverse childhood experiences can be problematic because children are particularly vulnerable to trauma. Sadly, childhood trauma can disrupt normal brain development in children.
The quality of early relationship bonding can predict our capacity for forming future attachments in relationships. Children can maintain these maladaptive patterns and echo the circumstances of their childhood environments into their adulthood. To compensate for the absence of bonding in childhood, they can subconsciously long for these connections as an adult, but due to their legacy of poor care, they may find it difficult to reciprocate intimacy or form significant bonds or establish healthy relationships.
Signs and symptoms of relational trauma
- History of childhood abuse, neglect
- Abuse of alcohol, drugs, medication
- Negativity, hopelessness, pessimism
- Low self-esteem, lack of confidence
- Being needy, clingy and suspicious
- Distant, avoidant, pre-occupied
- Fear/distrust of intimacy, affection
- Alternating hostility and affection
- Distrust of social support systems
- Antipathy, opposition to authority
- Isolation and antisocial behaviour
- Unable to handle stress, adversity
- Lack of compassion, remorse
- Psychiatric/medical comorbidities
Conditions that affect relationship potential:
- Substance use disorders
- Emotional/physical abuse
- Emotional/physical neglect
- Domestic violence
- Removal from home
- Incarcerated caretaker
- Change of caretaker
- Absence of caretaker
- Poor communication
- Lack of protection
- Excessive discipline
- Abandoned by parents
- Unsafe neighbourhood
Health disparities and ACEs
Preventing ACEs is part of addressing systemic imbalances in South Africa. While ACEs impact people of all ages, those who live in more deprived areas are more susceptible to perpetuating the cycle. ACEs have been shown to have long-term consequences on health and behaviour in people of all ages. We must all work together to avert adversity and promote awareness of ACEs. Resilient communities are vital in the fight against ACEs.
The ACE’s survey in Wales found that those with four or more ACEs are more likely to commit suicide, have been in prison develop heart disease frequently visit the GP develop type 2 diabetes have been in prison develop heart disease frequently visit the GP develop type 2 diabetes have been in prison develop type 2 diabetes (high-risk drinking, smoking, drug use).
Negative and stressful events can impact children’s ability to think, interact with others, and learn for the rest of their life.
ACEs are not a death sentence.
It is possible to give hope and resilience to children, adolescents, and adults who have experienced early life hardship.
Read “Adverse Childhood Experiences in Context” by the Scottish Adverse Childhood Experiences Hub to discover more about ACEs.