ACEs: A Call to Action

ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. The first study was done in 1998 and followed the criteria in the above photo. The study was done in an area of mostly white, middle class, college educated students. In this population, almost two-thirds of study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. This study also found that the higher the ACE score, the higher chance that individual had of having a chronic disease, infectious disease, risky behaviors, mental health problems, etc.

Why is this Important?

Many studies and research have been done since 1998 on ACEs which show much of the same results as the first one. However, we now know that children of minority populations tend to have higher ACE scores, therefore, leading to higher disparities in physical and mental health in the future. The reason behind the notion that a higher ACE score leads to health problems down the line is simple: toxic stress.

What is Toxic Stress?

Stress is a normal part of life and is healthy when experienced in small doses. Healthy stress may include things like, competing in a sport, taking a test, learning a new skill, watching a scary movie. These activities will release stress hormones and elevate your heart rate, but will eventually level out once the activity is over. Even an activity that may last a little longer, like caring for a sick family member, will level off or be tolerable if the individual is supported by other friends or family. However, toxic stress is when stress responses are activated too frequently and can disrupt the development of the brain. And without any sources of buffering (i.e. friends & family) this constant toxic stress will lead to lifelong physical, mental, and behavioral health problems.

Are children with ACEs doomed?

The answer to this is no. Just because you may experience more ACEs than others does not mean you will automatically develop certain health problems later in life. However, because we know how much toxic stress can alter a brain’s development, it is important to know if a child has experienced trauma. Some protective factors that help mitigate the effects of ACEs are as follows: supportive friend networks, safe neighborhoods, access to healthcare, high-quality nutrition, high-quality childcare, freedom from discrimination, positive relationships with adults, etc. Of course, some of these factors are more macro, and require a multitude of different policy changes. The answer is clear though, if as a society, we do not act upon this research and try to develop these protective factors as children continue to develop. More information needs to be spread about ACEs and trauma informed trainings for any professional that works with children should be more available.

What is PIK doing about this?

Prevention is Key will be developing an ACEs workgroup through our Community Coalition for a Safe & Healthy Morris. The workgroup will act as a brainstorming and educational piece to learn more about ACEs in Morris County and what we can do to help children who have experienced toxic stress. If you would like to learn more or participate in this workgroup please reach out to Barbara Kauffman at