Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)

We are involved in supporting local and national action to better understand and respond to ‘adverse childhood experiences’ (ACEs).  This term was originally developed in the context of a US study published in 1998. ACEs refer to stressful events experienced during childhood such as abuse, neglect, family conflict, parental imprisonment, mental illness or addiction. ACEs can create dangerous levels of stress and compromise a child’s healthy brain development, which can result in long-term effects on learning, behaviour, health and quality of life throughout the life-course. 

As part of our seminar series, in April 2015, Jane Stevens (founder of the ACEs Connection Network) was invited to talk about how ACEs and the ‘theory of everything’ can help build healthy communities.   The publication of a Scottish Public Health Network ACEs report, and a national conference on ACEs in November 2016, chaired by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, were also important in building understanding and awareness of child and family adversity and how best to prevent it. Additional early activity, led by GCPH, involved the organisation of a Glasgow’s Healthier Future Forum event in 2015 (Thinking Ahead in the Early Years)

The subsequent publication and dissemination of Health and Early Years, Children and Young People provides a synthesis of a wide range of work undertaken or commissioned by us with direct relevance for tackling ACEs within a social model of health that takes account of the economic, social, environmental and cultural spheres of influence on child/family life.

Our infographics summarise what ACEs are and helpful approaches and actions that can be taken.
Click below or download as a PDF.

ACEs infographic 1 - if you require a transcript or an accessible version, please email infographic 2 - if you require a transcript or an accessible version, please email

These early events and the many follow-up discussions/seminars built momentum for the creation of a Scottish ACEs Hub to progress national action on ACEs through working with a range of partners to raise awareness and understanding of family/childhood adversity, help develop the evidence base and support effective policy and practice in prevention and mitigation of their effects. 

One of the first activities of the Hub was to publish guidance for education staff on using the Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) to tackle adverse childhood experiences within and beyond school. The Scottish Government has built a commitment to tackling ACEs into its current Programme for Government and its Justice Strategy

In late March 2018, the Deputy First Minister hosted a roundtable event at Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow to seek views from participants on what they felt was working well in preventing and mitigating ACEs; what needed to change; and how the Scottish Government and partners could work together effectively on this agenda. The Scottish Government has also established an ACEs webpage and there is also more information on the NHS Health Scotland website.

A range of our studies including Poverty, parenting and poor health: comparing early years' experience in Scotland, England and three city regions,  Nurture Approaches in Nursery and Exploring Parenting/Family Support in GGC, have helped to strengthen the evidence base on the impact of early years’ experiences on later outcomes and approaches which can support child and family wellbeing. 

We lead an ACEs research group exploring causal pathways between ACEs and adverse outcomes, including some current work explicitly looking at the links between ACEs and childhood poverty.

Other work has recently quantified the prevalence of ACEs in Scotland (using data from the Growing Up in Scotland study), as well as highlighting the clear socio-economic determinants of child adversity in the country.