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ACES - Adverse childhood experiences training

What is it?

ACES - Adverse childhood experiences is a term which refers to stressful or traumatic events that children and young people can be exposed to as they are growing up. ACEs range from experiences that directly harm a child, such as physical, verbal or sexual abuse, and physical or emotional neglect,
to those that affect the environments in which children grow up, such as parental separation, domestic violence, mental illness, alcohol abuse, drug use or imprisonment.

There is a distinction between ‘normal’ stressful life events, such as parental divorce or illness of a loved one, and adverse childhood experiences, very traumatic life events, such as being or seeing someone else physically or sexually abused. These are experiences that will often be associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Why does it matter?

When exposed to stressful situations, the “fight, flight or freeze” response floods our brain with corticotrophin releasing hormones (CRH), which usually forms part of a normal and protective response that subsides once the stressful situation passes. However, when repeatedly exposed to ACEs, CRH is continually produced by the brain, which results in the child remaining permanently in
this heightened state of alert and unable to return to their natural relaxed and recovered state.

What can we do?

Think about how those experiences will have an impact on the child's healthy development and on their behaviours.

  • Recognise the signs, and see beyond a child just ‘acting out’.
  • Try to help them become more grounded, give them choices and allow them to feel more in control.
  • Understand that it is likely this will have an impact on any attachment for that child and there will be mistrust. We need to try and build a relationship with the child that is different to ones they have experienced previously.
  • Finally, it is important to remember that ACEs tend to be passed from generation to generation.


Click on the image below to access an online course about ACES.

ACES Training Online training

More information can be found on the Kirklees Safeguarding Children's Board ACES fact sheet. (opens PDF in new window).

The image below can help to explain ACES (click image to open PDF in new window):

Last updated: 03/06/2021