Trauma’s Trail of Tears

Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences

by Mary Boland

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) refer to all types of abuse, neglect, and other traumatic experiences that affect a child under the age of 18. Physical abuse, verbal berating, emotional neglect, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and drug or alcohol abuse in the home all fall under the umbrella of ACEs. The more ACEs a child experiences, the higher the child’s risk for mental, medical, and social problems as an adult.

How can something that happened to a child of five affect him when he’s 50? Research done by the Center for Disease Control revealed that the stress caused by severe, chronic trauma as a child releases hormones that physically damage a child’s developing brain. These flight, fight, or freeze hormones can be useful in a dire, one-in-million event, but they become toxic when released time and again. Luckily, reports on positive behaviors have shown promising results. Healthy habits such as exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep, and positive relationships slowly help the brain to heal and undo many of its negative changes.

Trauma-informed faith communities can have an extraordinary impact on those in their congregations struggling with ACEs. Strategies include home visits to pregnant women and families with newborns, parenting training programs, domestic violence prevention, mental illness and substance abuse treatment, and sufficient income support for low-income families can all be important tools in lessening the effects of ACEs.

Ten Types of ACEs.

  1. Physical abuse
  2. Verbal abuse
  3. Sexual abuse
  4. Physical neglect
  5. Emotional neglect
  6. A parent who is an alcoholic
  7. A mother who is a victim of domestic violence
  8. A family member in jail
  9. A family member diagnosed with a mental illness
  10. Disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment

Potential adult health issues associated with ACE scores

  • Diseases such as heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, skeletal fractures, liver disease, sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Risk factors such as smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity, drug use, poor self-rated health, sexual promiscuity.
  • Mental health issues such as depressive disorders, anxiety, hallucinations, sleep disturbances, anger management issues.
  • Sexual and reproductive health issues such as sexual dissatisfaction, teen pregnancy, unintended pregnancy, fetal death.
  • Health and social problems such as high stress, impaired job performance, relationship problems, risk of perpetrating or being a victim of domestic violence, premature mortality.



Building a Framework for Global Surveillance of the Public Health Implications of Adverse Childhood Experiences” by Robert F. Anda, Alexander Butchart, Vincent J. Felitti and David W. Brown in the Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2010. 


Tagged under:

Share on: