Adverse childhood experiences

Adverse childhood experiences


Adverse childhood experience (ACE) is a term most often used in developmental psychology. However, it has recently been gaining attention in the field of public health nursing.

Adults with a history of ACEs are significantly more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses (heart disease, cancer, COPD, liver disease), mental illness (depression, suicide attempts), and high-risk health behaviors (smoking, alcohol abuse, >50 sexual partners, illicit drug use, sedentary lifestyle) than those without a history of ACEs. Survivors are more likely to have teen children, engage in domestic violence, suffer from vocational dysfunction, and die young. ACEs have an impact on future generations by raising parental stress, which can lead to abusive parent-child relationships, developmental delays, and dysfunctional attachment patterns.These risks increase proportionally to the number of ACE categories experienced.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente researchers collaborated to investigate ACEs for the first time. They categorize ACEs into eight groups:

  • Abuse, such as parental psychological or physical assault, or sexual abuse by anybody
  • Neglect of any kind, whether it’s emotional or physical
  • Disruption in the home, as judged by:
  • In-home alcoholism or drug abuse
  • Loss of a biological parent before reaching the age of eighteen
  • Suicide attempts, depression, or mental illness in the home
  • Mother-on-mother violence
  • incarceration of a family member

The first ACE research was released in 1997, but since then, it has grown to include data on over 17,000 persons in the United States. Its findings, which have been repeated by other researchers, showed that 67 percent of adults surveyed have experienced at least one type of ACE. These typical occurrences have long-term and even intergenerational consequences. ACEs are “the most basic and long-lasting cause of health risk behaviors, mental illness, social dysfunction, disease, disability, premature death, and healthcare costs,” according to Vincent J. Felitti, the study’s principal researcher.

Up to 80% of clients serviced by home-visiting programs like the Metro Alliance for Healthy Families (MAHF) have a history of trauma, which most typically coincides with ACE categories.

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