Guest blog: The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences 

Giulia Tramontana
2 minute read

The following blog was provided by our partners at Motional for Mental Health Awareness Week.

What are adverse childhood experiences and how do they affect us? 

It is well known that the experiences we have early on in our lives and particularly in our early childhoods significantly impact how we grow and develop, our physical and mental health, and in turn our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. 

Therefore as part of our understanding of emotional well-being in education, it is important we consider adverse childhood experiences. Adverse Childhood Experiences are defined as “highly stressful, and potentially traumatic, events or situations that occur during childhood and/or adolescence. They can be a single event or prolonged threats to, and breaches of, the young person’s safety, security, trust or bodily integrity.” (Young Minds, 2018). 

The following are examples of ACEs: Physical abuse, living with someone who abused alcohol, living with someone with a serious illness or losing a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Unfortunately, ACEs are common with a 2014 UK study finding that 47% of people experienced at least one ACE with 9% of the population having 4+ ACES (Bellis et al, 2014). 

But what is the impact of ACEs? 

Experiencing ACEs can have an impact on our future mental health, and often ACEs can be barriers to healthy attachment relationships forming for children. Some widely found effects of ACEs are that they cause an increase in the risk of mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. 1 in 3 diagnosed mental health conditions in adulthood directly relate to ACEs. 

ACEs can also often lead to negative events happening later in life, an ACE survey with adults in Wales found that compared to people with no ACEs, those with 4 or more ACEs are more likely to (GovWales, 2020): 

  • have been in prison 
  • develop heart disease 
  • frequently visit the GP 
  • develop type 2 diabetes 
  • have committed violence in the last 12 months 
  • have health-harming behaviours (high-risk drinking, smoking, drug use) 

So how can schools help to identify and reduce the harmful effect of ACEs  

ACEs work through experience, not just exposure. Exposure alone doesn’t necessarily mean a child is affected. Therefore if the ACE is prevented from causing toxic stress, harm should not occur. With a caring and nurturing environment, we can build children with the resilience to protect them from ACEs. 

School staff are the professionals who spend the most time with children and young people. This means that schools are best placed to identify difficulties and support and influence children and young people. 

By identifying and being aware of ACE factors within individual children schools can work with these pupils to develop resilience and reduce the effects of the toxic stress caused by ACEs later in life.  

How can Motional assist in this? 

Motional supports access to healthy life and learning through improved emotional well-being. Offering guidance, activities and resources for intervention work with individual pupils or whole classes and generating data to provide a ‘whole school’ approach.  

The individual snapshot allows teachers to complete a questionnaire on each pupil, which in turn generates a profile for that individual. The snapshot takes into account ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and Protective Factor scores where required and gives staff a whole-brain picture of students’ mental health and well-being. The software then recommends intervention activities for each individual to improve their emotional well-being and provide a structured approach for teachers.  

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