ACES: Childhood Trauma and its Effects

ACES or Adverse Childhood Experiences are those traumatic events or situations like divorce, abuse, neglect, and food insecurity that we know from research can increase our risk for poor health outcomes.

This trauma can cause toxic stress that changes the way a child’s brain works and copes. Left unattended, without supportive adults and strategies to help children cope with trauma and become resilient, ACES can lead to obesity, heart disease, alcohol and drug abuse, and poor mental health outcomes including suicide.

23% of Maine high school youth identified as having 3 or more ACES in the 2017 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey. This is a higher percentage than other states. What’s more, the Maine survey did not determine youth living in poverty or in substance abusing families – which we know are two common ACES.

Some of the concepts learned from ACES:

  • High ACES in girls are highly predictive of future heroin use.
  • Sexual abuse seems to affect girls more deeply than boys, while boys seem to be affected more deeply by neglect.
  • People with a high ACES “score” are also more likely to have a shorter life span.
  • ACES are passed down at a genetic level. People can be affected by the trauma of their ancestors.
  • Where there is one ACE, there is often more.

Adults can learn how to understand this research, identify ACES in children they care for – but more importantly what to do – in small and institutional ways. Choose To Be Healthy works with local schools and other caring adults to bring the ACES concept and how to build resiliency to our communities.

To learn more about this topic, we have compiled some resources here:

Thank you to Sue Mackey Andrews from the Maine Resilience Building Network for her dedication to this often neglected health issue and to giving us permission to post her presentation here with other resources she recommends.