Publication - Factsheet

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Published: 31 Jul 2018

Action to prevent adverse childhood experiences where we can, and tackle their impact.

31 Jul 2018
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

What are ACEs

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic experiences that can have a huge impact on children and young people throughout their lives.

The ten widely recognised ACEs, as identified in a US study from the 1990s, are:


  • physical
  • sexual
  • verbal


  • emotional
  • physical

Growing up in a household where:

  • there are adults with alcohol and drug use problems
  • there are adults with mental health problems
  • there is domestic violence
  • there are adults who have spent time in prison
  • parents have separated

As well as these 10 ACEs there are a range of other types of childhood adversity that can have similar negative long term effects. These include bereavement, bullying, poverty and community adversities such as living in a deprived area, neighbourhood violence etc.

We are committed to addressing all types of childhood adversity, and this is anchored in our long-standing, national approach of Getting it right for every child.

Why ACEs matter

Childhood adversity can create harmful levels of stress which impact healthy brain development. This can result in long-term effects on learning, behaviour and health.

Evidence from ACE surveys in the US, UK and elsewhere demonstrates that ACEs can exert a significant influence throughout people's life.

ACEs have been found to be associated with a range of poorer health and social outcomes in adulthood and that these risks increase as the number of ACEs increase.

Research from Wales found that people who reported experiencing four or more ACES are:

  • 4x more likely to be a high-risk drinker
  • 16x more likely to have used crack cocaine or heroin
  • 6x increased risk of never or rarely feeling optimistic
  • 3x increased risk of heart disease, respiratory disease and type 2 diabetes
  • 15x more likely to have committed violence
  • 14x more likely to have been victim of violence in the last 12 months
  • 20x more likely to have been in prison at any point in their life

Consideration of ACEs is therefore crucial to thinking about how to improve the lives of children and young people, to support better transitions into adulthood, and achieve good outcomes for all adults.

What are we doing to address ACEs

As set out in the Programme for Government 2018 to 2019, we are committed to preventing ACEs and helping to reduce the negative impacts of ACEs where they occur and supporting the resilience of children, families and adults in overcoming adversity.

We are take forward action in four key areas:

1. Providing inter-generational support for parents, families and children to prevent ACEs

2. Reducing the negative impact of ACEs for children and young people

3. Developing adversity and trauma-informed workforce and services

4. Increasing societal awareness and supporting action across communities 

We held an ACEs ministerial event in March 2018 in Glasgow involving people working across a wide-range of related sectors and Year of Young People Ambassadors. This explored what was working well, where further action is needed and opportunities for collaboration.

Through our Getting it right for every child approach, families and children can be supported by services to prevent and reduce adversity and the negative outcomes associated with it.

We will build on our existing policies, including:

Our policies in the following areas are also relevant:

Addressing ACEs is also about better supporting adults who have been through adversity and trauma.

We are working with NHS Education for Scotland and have announced £1.35 million funding to deliver a national trauma training programme. This will help Scotland's current and future workforce develop skills and services that respond appropriately to people's adverse childhood experiences and other traumatic experiences.

Consideration of ACEs is increasingly informing the development of national policy. For example, the Justice in Scotland: Vision and Priorities 2017 to 2020 identified ACEs as a key issue. A range of actions are being taken to reduce their impact e.g. measures to reduce parental incarceration by moving to a presumption against short prison sentences.

We are also working with the Scottish ACEs Hub (co-ordinated by NHS Health Scotland) which aims to raise awareness and understanding about ACEs and progress national action. For example, the Scottish ACEs Hub, in conjunction with Education Scotland, held a conference in March 2018 on addressing childhood adversity to support children's learning and wellbeing.

See also



Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Resilience team
Improving Health & Wellbeing Division
Directorate for Children & Families
Scottish Government
2B-South Victoria Quay