Adverse childhood experiences and future health implications

ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) can take many forms, including physical abuse, mental abuse, neglect and domestic violence. One particularly prominent study on ACEs was carried out by CDC-Kaiser Permanente in 1998, which showed a direct correlation between ACEs and future health complications.

Since this study, much has been learnt about the psychological effects that ACEs have on the minds and bodies of young people, and the direct link between recurring exposure to ACEs and long-term health complications. This increased understanding of the effects of toxic stress, means that it is possible to interrupt these changes by providing a safe, stable and nurturing environment, while helping children to build social and emotional skills.

Some stress in our lives is healthy. In small doses, stress can help us to perform better, encourage us to try harder, push us to reach further. In certain instances, intense or longer lasting stresses can remain tolerable if we have the right support networks or coping mechanisms in place. Frequent or prolonged exposure to certain types of stress, without those supports in place, can have toxic effect on our brains and bodies.

Sustained activation of the body’s stress response, toxic stress, can lead to anxiety, depression, impaired learning and memory, hypervigilance and reduced attention control, difficulties experiencing joy, and difficulty reading situations and understanding how to respond.

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente study mentioned earlier, showed that adults who scored an ACE score of 4 or more, were at significantly greater risk of various behavioural, physical and mental health issues later on in life. These included (and were not limited to) smoking, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, obesity, depression, diabetes, chronic lung disease, strokes, cancer, heart disease and broken bones.

The most important ways to prevent toxic stress have been identified as providing a safe, stable and nurturing environment, reducing a child’s ACE exposure, helping children to learn to cope with adversity and building resilience.

These findings sit at the very heart of what we set out to achieve as a school. We strive to create an inclusive, safe, nurturing environment, where our children and thrive and achieve.