What are ACES?
The Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACES) is the largest and first research study that established a direct association between childhood trauma and adult ill health. The study found that the greater the number adverse childhood experiences the greater the possibility of disabilities and dysfunction in adult life.
ACES began in a Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in 1995 and has a fascinating history. ACES is an ongoing study that is now a collaboration between Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For more information about the study visit: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/
ACES in the Foster Care System
The original ACES study focused on adults. Researchers have been interested in learning more about childhood adverse experiences among children who have been reported to the child welfare system. This comparison provides perspective on the future challenges foster children may face, as well as preventive services and treatment services.
In order to apply ACES to foster children, researchers at the Administration for Children and Families used NSCAW II, a national longitudinal study of the well-being of 5,873 children who had contact with the CWS within a 14-month period starting in February 2008. The researchers found that more than half of all children reported to CPS had experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences BEFORE they even came into contact with CPS. “The levels of adverse events foster children are experiencing are extremely high. As a point of comparison, almost two thirds of the adult population of the ACES reported one or no adverse childhood experiences. Even the youngest children in the NSCAW population have already accrued more adverse childhood experiences than many of the adults interviewed for the ACES.”
(U.S. Department of HHS Administration for Children and Families, National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being, No. 20: Adverse Childhood Experiences in NSCAW)
ACEs and adversity is only one part of the equation. Children have their own characteristics and experiences that help them develop resilience despite exposure to ACEs. Children are not born magically resilient nor susceptible to ACEs. Resilience can come from a person’s own biological and developmental characteristics as well as nurturing relationships, family, community, and systems that mitigate the negative impacts of ACEs. Researchers studying resilience continue to explore the processes involved in developing and supporting resilience. However, all agree that close relationships with competent caregivers or other caring adults are vital in building and promoting resilience in children.