Home » Supporting agencies to tackle childhood adversity across Northern Ireland

What are ACEs?

Children who are routinely exposed to situations such as domestic violence, mental ill health, alcohol and other substance misuse problems in their homes experience a negative impact which can last well into adulthood.

These chronic stress situations are called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and are often associated with poorer outcomes for children in educational attainment, employment, involvement in crime, family breakdown, and a range of health and wellbeing measures.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful experiences occurring during childhood that directly harm a child or affect the environment in which they live.  (Bellis et al 2016) 

ACEs can include the following:

  1. Verbal abuse
  2. Physical abuse
  3. Sexual abuse
  4. Physical neglect
  5. Emotional neglect
  6. Parental separation
  7. Domestic violence
  8. Mental ill health
  9. Alcohol or drug misuse
  10. Household member incarcerated

Impact of four of more ACEs

Did you know that compared with people with no ACEs, those with 4+ ACEs are: 

(The figures above are based on a national population study that was completed in Wales.)


The Pair of ACEs Model

The Pair of ACEs model is based on research that looked at community resilience and what helps or hinders. We know that poverty, poor housing etc. (as shown on the roots of the tree) exacerbate, or compound, the individual or the family response to other ACEs. They can make what was a tolerable situation of stress, toxic. We're going to look at stress shortly.

It is important to think about ACEs in a way that does not simply 'pathologise' individuals but sees that they have a ripple effect upon whole family systems, communities and ultimately, societies.
ACEs are a societal issue.

Ellis and Dietz (2017) devised this transformative approach in USA, the Building Community Resilience model, to “foster collaboration across child health systems, community based agencies and cross sector partners to address the root cause of toxic stress and Childhood adversity, and build community resilience”. Emphasis was for clinicians to see beyond the clinical environment to address social determinants that lead to adverse child and community experiences which both impact upon early childhood development.

Community resilience is defined as “the capacity to anticipate risk, limit effects and recover rapidly through survival, adaptability, evolution and growth in the face of turbulent change and stress”. 



Click here to download the ACEs / Trauma Informed Practice Information leaflet


Northern Ireland ACE Animation

You can find out more about ACEs and the impact on child development through this short animation that has been developed by the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland.

We hope that our viewers find the ACE Animation a helpful tool in raising awareness of what ACEs are and how staff, volunteers and organisations can be the change to support children, adults, families and communities to be more resilient. 


Alternative formats of the NI ACE Animation can be clicking here