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ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences and includes trauma such as:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional neglect
  • Physical neglect
  • Domestic violence
  • Household substance abuse
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

This isn’t a comprehensive list there are other trauma’s such as bullying which have been included in recent studies.

What long-term harm can ACEs do?

As the number of ACEs suffered increases so does the risk of a range of conditions including:

  • Alcoholism
  • Drug use
  • Depression 
  • Domestic violence
  • Smoking
  • Suicide
  • Adolescent pregnancy
  • Diseases including: cancer, stroke, diabetes etc

According to an ACEs study in England those with 4 or more ACEs are:

  • 2 x more likely to currently binge drink and have a poor diet
  • 3 x more likely to smoke
  • 5 x more likely to have had sex while under 16 years old
  • 6 x more likely to have had or caused an unplanned teenage pregnancy 
  • 7 x more likely to have been involved in violence in the last year
  • 11 x more likely to have used heroin/crack or been incarcerated

How many people in Scotland have ACEs?

There’s no current study in Scotland looking at the prevalence of ACES, but based on a study in England it has been estimated that up to 50% of the Scottish population may have experienced at least one ACE. Therefore it's estimated the health of around half the Scottish population may have been affected. 

Does everyone who suffers ACEs have such negative outcomes?

No, some children have been shown to display resilience to such events. Often such children have had at least one stable and positive relationship with a close adult. This appears to protect them from the worst effects of ACEs. 

How would society benefit if we addressed ACEs?

According to the English study we could reduce:

  • Unintended teen pregnancy by 38%
  • Smoking by 16%
  • Heroin/crack use by 59%
  • The victims of violence by 51%
  • Perpetration of violence by 52%
  • Incarceration by 53%
  • Poor diet by 14%

The economic savings for society could be huge. 

What can we do to stop ACEs:

  • Raise awareness amongst those in contact with children in a position to help
  • Help build resilience amongst children at risk
  • Join forces across education, criminal justice, social work, public health and all other relevant sectors 
  • Tackle poverty and inequality…

There’s a long list of things we can do, which all begins with the belief that adverse childhood experiences are preventable and a healthier, happier and safer society is possible. Scotland is already making great strides in tackling ACEs with the Scottish Government’s recent justice plan including early intervention as a priority. The Scottish Violence Reduction Unit are determined to do our bit in the battle to protect our children and our society from violence in all its forms. 

Where can I find out more:

The information in this fact sheet is based on the Scottish Public Health Network 2016 report "Polishing the Diamonds" Addressing Adverse Chilhood Experiences in Scotland, which can be found here


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