ACEs & Brain Science

What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?

"ACEs" is a term used to describe a wide range of situations a child under the age of 18 may experience in the home that fall into three categories: abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. 

ACEs can contribute to lifelong physical and behavioral health challenges. A child is more at risk for ACEs when the child’s parents experience stressors like social isolation, underemployment, lack of health care, depression, or the inability to access basic necessities. 

When we create healthier environments for all children, we are promoting a healthier and more productive nation. When we invest in children now, we don’t have to pay later, as individuals or society. But this goal of a healthy and productive future is undermined by ACEs, which weaken brain development in children. Studies have shown that ACEs lead to higher health care costs, increased incarceration, lost work time, and poor mental health later in life. ACEs have lasting effects on health, addictive behaviors, and earning potential.

a little more about brain development...

Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee is joining with other leaders to challenge Tennesseans to create a future for our children that is free of abuse and neglect. The next generation of Tennesseans can be healthier and more productive citizens if we prevent childhood adversity now. We partner with ACE Nashville, Building Strong Brains Tennessee’s ACE initiative, and the Community Coalition to educate our state on brain development and the harmful effects of ACEs to show how this impacts childhoods.


We're glad you asked.

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The original ACE study was conducted by Kaiser-Permanente Foundation from 1995-1997. It was one of the largest investigations, with over 17,000 participants, conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later health and well-being. The ten ACEs measured were broken down into three categories; abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction.

52% of Tennesseans have AT LEAST one ACE.

Abuse included emotional, physical, and sexual abuse experiences. Neglect encompassed emotional and physical neglect. The final category, family dysfunction, included witnessing domestic violence, substance use and abuse, mental illness, parental separation, divorce, and an incarcerated family member. For each experience a participant would gain a 1 and the total number of experiences would denote their final score. For example, if someone had parents who were abusing substances then got divorced they would have an ACE score of 2. This study revealed that nearly 64% of adults have at least one ACE and that the higher the ACE score the greater the risk of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.

Now we know that high levels of stress as children affect our body and mind in serious ways and impact development.  Safe, stable, and nurturing environments support healthy development and can be used to counteract the negative effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences. 

Want more info? Visit the CDC's website regarding ACEs and the ACE Study.