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Adverse Childhood Experiences can lead to risk factors in adulthood

April 19, 2019

Aces blog

Child abuse affects every area of a youth’s life, especially their future. Early negative events, called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can often point to likely risk factors in adulthood like chronic health conditions and mental illness. The ACE Quiz is a result of The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study done in the late 90s. During the two year study more than 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization members from Southern California took part, including taking surveys about childhood experiences, behaviors and health. The study showed that ACEs are fairly common, with more than two-thirds of study participants reporting at least one ACE. The study also produced the ACE Quiz that is still available for anyone to take.

Take the ACE Quiz

The ACE Quiz calculates three categories of Adverse Childhood Experiences; abuse, neglect and family/household challenges, each category is also divided into sub-categories. Based on how the participant answers, a score is calculated. Although the quiz does not take into account genes or positive experiences, results of the study find the more difficult the childhood, the higher the score and the higher likelihood of health problems and adversity as an adult. Higher ACE scores have been directly linked to;

Risky behaviors as an adult (alcohol or drug use, smoking)
Chronic health problems (obesity, depression, heart disease, diabetes, stroke)
Low life potential, possible early death

When an ACE score gets higher than four, the implications can be startling. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease rises 390%, of depression, 460% and suicide 1220%.Youth who have experienced significant ACEs can interrupt potential developmental harm when given access to a variety of therapeutic interventions. Regular sessions with a mental health professional, trauma-informed care, the ACEs Quiz and referrals or in-patient options like Casa Pacifica’s Camino a Casa program (formerly the START program) can help youth deal with complex traumas.

“We work with children who have lost hope and a sense of self due to past experiences and trauma. As their Clinician in the Casa Pacifica’s Camino a Casa program, my focus is to help them see the best parts of themselves so that hopefully they remove the trauma from defining who they are today and who they can become.” - Paige Brodkin, M.Ed., Registered Associate Clinician I, Camino a Casa, Casa Pacifica

The wide variety of health and social repercussions suggested by the study and the ACE Quiz highlight how important it is to prevent child abuse and ACEs from happening in the first place. ACEs can be avoided with stable, safe nurturing environments for our youth, by preventing high levels of stress in the home and helping families meet basic needs. In addition, safe, secure relationships can greatly improve a youth’s chances of growing up healthy.