ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. They are negative things that people go through when they are a baby or child. Some examples of these are living in a home where there is violence, experiencing sexual or emotional abuse or a family member being in prison. Anything that causes stress or makes a baby or child feel threatened can be considered to be an ACE. Experiencing these negative or traumatic things can have an impact on babies and children which can stay with them all the way into adulthood.
ACEs are really common; a research study suggests that almost half of all adults within the United Kingdom experienced at least one ACE, and nearly one in ten experienced four or more. We suspect that within our area of Bradford this number may be even higher. This means that there are a lot of people within our communities who have experienced trauma as a baby or child. How trauma affects each individual person can be unique to them but it can cause things like distress, anxiety, low mood. It can also lead to people appearing to over or under react to situations that they perceive as threatening.
When we feel threatened, our bodies react by releasing stimulating chemicals. This is completely normal when we are facing an unusual situation which is stressful or dangerous. However, if we are frequently in stressful or threatening situations it can lead to long-term changes in our body.
Being exposed to stressful situations for a long period of time can lead to a higher chance of becoming unwell and also of having emotional or mental health difficulties as an adult.
One of the most important things that can be done is to reduce the amount of time that babies and children are exposed to these stressful situations, however this isn’t always possible as sometimes situations are beyond a person’s control. Just because someone has experienced one or more ACEs it does not mean for certain that this will have a negative impact on their life. It has been shown that there are some simple things that help limit the impact of stressful situations on children, the most important of these is the child having a steady loving adult figure in their life that they can trust and rely on. Resilience is the ability to adapt to and cope with changes and stresses in life; there are many things that have been shown to help build up children’s resilience.
There are some simple things that can be done to help adults who have experienced trauma. It helps if they are offered trust-worthy accessible services through which they feel listened to. One of the most important things that we can do as communities is to treat others with compassion and kindness. If we can change people’s mind-sets from ‘what is wrong with them’ to ‘what has happened to them’ we can begin to understand that our experiences, both positive and negative impact our personality and behaviour in ways that we cannot always control. In this way we can develop trauma-informed communities in which people are supported to heal and move on from the trauma that they have experienced.