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Early Risk Factors: ACEs

Early Risk Factors: ACEs

ACEs: What Are They?

ACE is an acronym for Adverse Childhood Experiences. Many health care providers and organizations who work with people affected by trauma often utilize the Adverse Childhood Experiences Questionnaire to identify the presence of childhood traumas, as well as an individual’s possible risk for mental health disorders later in life.

ACEs are events that can be experienced as traumatic for children under 18 years of age. The questionnaire includes all types of abuse, as well as issues related to parental substance abuse or mental illness, divorce and domestic violence. The ACEs questionnaire consists of 10 questions. Answering “yes” to four or more indicates a significant childhood trauma history.

Higher Risk

A study conducted in the 90’s found a correlation between the number of ACEs experienced and the risk for certain issues later in life. They discovered the higher the number of ACEs an individual experiences before the age of 18, the more at-risk the individual may be for developing mental health issues, physical health issues, substance use, suicide, and risky behaviors across the life span.

Keep in mind: the ACE score focuses on one type of risk factor and does not take into account lifestyle factors (such as diet, smoking, drinking, risky behaviors, etc.) that may also influence health. In addition, the ACE score does not consider the positive early childhood experiences that help to build resilience and serve as protective factors against the effects of trauma.

Know Your ACEs

You can take the test here.

For some of us, our ACE score may be low, for others, our ACE score may be rather high. Learning about our ACEs might help us understand why we behave the way we do. It can also help us recognize that our coping responses are normal…normal reactions to abnormal situations.

There is hope!

The good news is this ACEs study prompted the identification of positive childhood circumstances that can lessen the impact of these adverse experiences. In fact, the more positive factors a person experiences, the less impact the adverse events have on a child across the life span.

Some positive childhood factors include environments where children:

  1. feel able to talk to their family about feelings;
  2. feel their family stands by them during difficult times;
  3. enjoy participating in community/church traditions;
  4. feel a sense of belonging in high school;
  5. feel supported by friends;
  6. have at least two non-parent adults (grandparents, teachers, mentors, coaches, youth workers) who take genuine interest in them
  7. feel safe and protected by an adult in their home.

We can prevent many ACEs from happening in our own families, ministries, and classrooms by meeting the needs of the children and teens in our care and by balancing boundaries and consistency with compassion and nurture.

We can also encourage positive factors that help heal…such as providing family connections where children feel safe, protected, supported, and able to talk about feelings.

Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, youth worker, teacher, coach, or mentor, you can use the ACE as a tool to begin to have open conversations about your story, as well as the stories and experiences of children, teens, and young adults in your care. When we understand other’s stories, we can respond with grace and compassion. We can also use this knowledge to support families and strengthen our communities. You just might change the trajectory of someone’s life!

Speak Your Mind


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