Children and Adverse Childhood Experiences



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Children & Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs):

Analyzing the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on Child Development & Adulthood


Chy’Na Cunningham

Chestnut Hill College

PSYC 498: Senior Seminar in Psychology

Dr. Freeman

March 5th, 2021








Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) disturb a child’s emotional, psychological, cognitive brain development and amplifies within adulthood. Because of this, children need to be supported by three core protective systems: their individual capabilities, relationships, and the community. These core systems advocate for children to be nurtured and encourage resilience building to combat the exposure of ACEs and the further development of other diseases and disorders. Adverse childhood experiences are identified as abuse, neglect, and a dysfunctional household (CDC-Kaiser, 1998). Abuse is identified physically, emotionally, and sexually while neglect is inflicted physically and emotionally. A dysfunctional household may consist of parental divorce, substance abuse, incarceration, violent abuse of the mother, and a parent suffering from mental illness.  These experiences expand as the children develop and submerge into adulthood.  Analyzing the impacts of ACEs on children as they develop with excessive stress is essential if we want to decrease the number of children who carry unusual distress as a result of ACEs.

As a result of neurological, emotional, and social defects children who experience ACEs battle with their ability to maintain their attention, decision-making skills, behavior, and stress. increase a child’s risk of mental illness, substance abuse, and severe health problems within adulthood. Researchers Julia Herzog and Christian Schmahl used cross-sectional literature of ACEs effects on neurobiology, mental, and somatic health to analyze the long-lasting effects on the brain, mental and physical health. They found that the volumes of the hippocampus and amygdala are significant to consider. Through their analysis, their hypotheses were confirmed that amygdala hypertrophy is connected to early exposure to emotional and/or psychical neglect. The effects of distress on the hippocampus and the amygdala are significant to consider for the development of children. The hippocampus is a part of our brain that enables our learning and memory functions. With a defective hippocampus, our memories and ability to conduct new memories are negatively impacted. Our amygdala is a part of the brain that functions our “fight or flight” response to stressors in our environment.  An abnormal amygdala impairs one’s executive decision-making skills and ultimately compromises their social development and functioning. Children with ACEs are under consistent distress diminishes the volume of both the amygdala and the hippocampus. Thus, a child with a damaged amygdala and hippocampus is more likely to have problems processing emotions, behave aggressively, and develop disorders like anxiety, PSTD, and depression as they enter adulthood (Herzog & Schmahl, 2018). Additionally, abnormally small volumes of the amygdala are linked to bipolar disorder and depression in adulthood (Herzog & Schmahl, 2018). It is vital that to  recognize all elements that contribute to a child experiencing residual effects of ACEs as they develop and ways to intervene efficiently and promote prevention.

Researchers recognize the sensitive time periods of children with ACEs. They found that the duration that a child is exposed to an ACE is significant in understanding that the more exposure to the toxicity the more likely they are to combat severe health and behavior issues. Early trauma is a risk factor for children to develop depression and PTSD in adulthood. found that trauma exposure between the ages of 3 and 5 years old (compared to 0-2 or 6-8 years old) constitutes a higher risk for children to experience PTSD, depression, suicide in adulthood (Schoedl et al., 2010). Research also recognizes children are especially sensitive to the exposure of ACEs between 11-13 years old. It is a substantial factor to consider as the early trauma can obstruct their cognitive development. The development of a child’s cognitive development enables them to attain language, identify and learn objects, take and respond to information appropriately and so much more. With considerable cognitive development deficiencies, we see children who are unable to communicate, respond with their emotions effectively, follow instructions, explore learning, or interact with socially with the environment. With examining the sensitive time periods of children and exposure to ACEs, it is also essential that we identify risk factors and explore further solutions.

It is proven that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) correspond with acute challenges that appear in adulthood. For instance, children who endure abuse, neglect, and/or household dysfunction are negatively exposed to instances that are detrimental to their development. We can recognize that these childhood experiences advance and may appear in adulthood as mental health problems. In a 2018 study, researcher Laura van Duin and associates constructed a study to analyze the capacities of ACEs and the connection with the use of mental health care for psychological dysfunction in young males from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds (van Duin et al., 2018). The study considered potential risk factors, access and use of mental healthcare, and the contribution of community services for an inclusive evaluation in reference to ACEs. The researchers used a technique that accessed retrospective psychiatric case data and self-report questionnaires to assess the group. Within the study, a sample of 643 multi-problematic men, ages 18-27 years-old, were given a series of questionnaires where they were asked to self-report their experiences of maltreatment, household dysfunction, and their use of mental health care. For example, when inquiring about the participants’ experience with maltreatment, the researchers provided the Dutch Childhood Trauma Questionnaire-Short Form (CTQ-SF), a 24-item Likert-type questionnaire, that evaluated the frequency of physical, emotional, sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect. Additionally, when assessing the use of mental health care, researchers accessed the Psychiatric Case Register (PCR) which is a longitudinal record database for the Rotterdam Region relevant for their sample population within the study. From the study, 99.8% of the sample reported experiencing at least one ACE, while the average was 3.6 ACEs. Of the 3.6 average, the most common ACE that the young men reported to have experienced was emotional neglect (van Duin et al., 2018). Collectively, abuse, physical neglect, police contact with a family member, and domestic violence were the more common experiences for the multi-problematic young men in comparison to a general population of men. The results of the study confirm the hypothesis of the prevalence of ACEs in multi-problematic young men from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The study recognizes that children from ethnic minorities are disproportionally affected by poverty, deprivation, and development problems and therefore exist as common risk factors for young adults to establish mental health problems. This means that black and brown children who grow up in poor communities are more susceptible to mental health problems than other children who are raised in good standards. For example, the study found that the young adults with a problematic childhood including being raised by a single-parent, an experience with Child Protection Services (CPS) or police contact, had a higher risk to experience things like unemployment, early pregnancy and parenthood, delinquent behavior, and substance abuse (van Duin et al., 2018).  Children from impoverished communities are susceptible to these risk factors that impede their childhood and development. This means that children of minorities come from communities of low-income, insufficient resources, troubled neighborhoods, and violence correspond with ACEs and later social and mental health issues. The risk factors for children with ACEs recognized strong predictors for disorders and recipients of mental healthcare treatment. As an example, a child growing up in poverty, whose parents have psychological issues has a high risk to develop psychological issues themselves. Additionally, researchers identified predicators of who are more likely to seek and receive mental health care. They found, the parents that received treatment for their mental health problems were more inclined to accept similar mental health care for their children. The risk factors considered in this study are important to acknowledge within our communities so we can better assess children by intervening earlier. Researchers recommend special attention, proficient screening technique and resources, and intervention for high-risk children with ACEs. As a whole, it is advised to implement more community involvement in the lives of high-risk children with a community-based approach increasing care within their disadvantaged neighborhoods. The increase of community involvement would increase awareness and education of adults in ways they would prepare them to better assess children with ACEs. Children are a vulnerable population; they do not comprise the ability to care for themselves or provide the level of care necessary for development. Parents and communities need to promote a safe and nurturing environment that supports and encourages the healthy development of children despite their ACEs.

Current studies support the research that suggests that coping strategies are a direct tool to intervene with children with  and later problems with their phsycial health or adult psychiatric assistance. Researchers Julia Sheffler, Jennifer Piazza and their collegues (Sheffler et al, 2019) conducted a study to test their hypothesis; that the utilization of coping mechnicms for young children with ACEs mediates the relationship of psychiatric and physical health outcomes within adulthood. They used prior literature





Bellis, M.A., Hughes, K., Ford, K. et al. Adverse childhood experiences and sources of childhood resilience: a retrospective study of their combined relationships with child health and educational attendance. BMC Public Health 18, 792 (2018).

Bethell, C., Gombojav, N., Solloway, M., & Wissow, L. (2016). Adverse Childhood Experiences, Resilience and Mindfulness-Based Approaches: Common Denominator Issues for Children with Emotional, Mental, or Behavioral Problems. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America25(2), 139–156.

D’Orazio, S. J., (2016). Assessing the Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Brain Development. Inquiries Journal, 8(7). http://

Heard-Garris, N., Davis, M. M., Szilagyi, M., & Kan, K. (2018). Childhood adversity and parent perceptions of child resilience. BMC pediatrics18(1), 204.

Herzog, J. I., & Schmahl, C. (2018). Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Consequences on Neurobiological, Psychosocial, and Somatic Conditions Across the Lifespan. Frontiers in psychiatry9, 420.

Julia L. Sheffler, Jennifer R. Piazza, Jamie M. Quinn, Natalie J. Sachs-Ericsson & Ian H. Stanley (2019) Adverse childhood experiences and coping strategies: identifying pathways to resiliency in adulthood, Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 32:5, 594-609, DOI: 10.1080/10615806.2019.1638699


Merrick, M. T., Ports, K. A., Ford, D. C., Afifi, T. O., Gershoff, E. T., & Grogan-Kaylor, A. (2017). Unpacking the impact of adverse childhood experiences on adult mental health. Child abuse & neglect69, 10–19.

Ortiz R. (2019). Building Resilience Against the Sequelae of Adverse Childhood Experiences: Rise Up, Change Your Life, and Reform Health Care. American journal of lifestyle medicine13(5), 470–479.

Schoedl, A. F., Costa, M. C., Mari, J. J., Mello, M. F., Tyrka, A. R., Carpenter, L. L., & Price, L. H. (2010). The clinical correlates of reported childhood sexual abuse: an association between age at trauma onset and severity of depression and PTSD in adults. Journal of child sexual abuse19(2), 156–170.

Sciaraffa, M.A., Zeanah, P.D. & Zeanah, C.H. (2018). Understanding and Promoting Resilience in the Context of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Early Childhood Educ J 46343–353.

van Duin, L., Bevaart, F., Zijlmans, J., Luijks, M. A., Doreleijers, T., Wierdsma, A. I., Oldehinkel, A. J., Marhe, R., & Popma, A. (2019). The role of adverse childhood experiences and mental health care use in psychological dysfunction of male multi-problem young adults. European child & adolescent psychiatry28(8), 1065–1078.



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