Why I Worry About the ACE-Aware Movement’s Impact

There’s more to trauma than simply an ‘adverse childhood experiences’ score, says this principal educational psychologist

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Trauma Child
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Practitioners across a range of disciplines who work carefully and respectfully and operate within the bounds of their professional registrations are perhaps, like me, feeling slightly ill-at-ease in the wake of the recent “ACE-aware” movement.

The ACE study was conducted some 20 years ago in the States by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente (Felitti et al., 1998) and has generated many papers since.

It grew out of an attempt by researchers to try to understand why mainly white, middle-class Americans who had private health insurance were continuing to suffer ill-health despite medical advice and intervention.

Using a questionnaire asking these patients about difficult events they had experienced in childhood – Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – they found that those with a higher number of ACEs were more likely to have physical health difficulties, engage in health-related risk-taking behaviours, suffer from mental ill health and report lower wellbeing ratings. Those with the most ACEs were more likely to die some 20 years earlier than those with less childhood trauma.

These findings have then been generalised into other populations such as school-aged pupils, with reports now saying. . .

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