A societal change is happening – across the world and the United Kingdom, people are becoming ACE aware. ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences, and the term is used to describe stressful situations that children may experience; this includes domestic violence, drug and/or alcohol abuse, familial mental health issues, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, separation, loss and incarceration of a family member.
Surveys show that ACEs are very common, with between half and two thirds of respondents having experienced one or more ACE. The more we have found out about this subject the more it has resonated with our own lives and daily experiences. As parents, friends, teachers and people who have experienced some ACEs within our own early years, our increased awareness of this subject has helped us to make sense of behaviours that can be seen as frustrating and bewildering within a school environment.
So why does this matter? Current research and collected evidence clearly demonstrate the effects of cumulative and prolonged stress in a child’s body and brain, profoundly altering the development of their brains, immune systems and resistance to disease, so much so that a child with exposure to multiple ACEs may have a 20 year shorter life expectancy and is much more susceptible to risk taking or criminalised behaviour. Even worse, they are very likely to pass these traits on to the next generation. The good news is that these outcomes can be improved and ACEs can be prevented.
Early action and prevention can have a profoundly positive impact upon health, educational and criminal outcomes, improving the long-term outcomes for individuals and families, but also increasing the nation’s cultural, societal and financial capital.