Adverse Childhood Experiences

Why is STE interested in Adverse Childhood Experiences?

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Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can have a huge impact on behaviour, cognition, health and the life course of individuals.

The Society for Total Education believes in the development and recognition of the full range of a person’s potential. ACEs are damaging that potential and are preventing children from thriving into adulthood. This is why we are interested in partnering with organisations that are focused on ACE prevention.

Darren Martindale in his article in ‘The Voice of Secondary Education’ in February 2020 highlights the negative effects of ACE’s on the developing brain and how these neurological changes significantly affect the areas of cognitive, emotional and social functioning. His article focuses on how this will affect the child’s ability to engage in education. 

Here is an extract from Darren Martindale’s article:

“When past stresses have been too great for a person to cope with positively, their coping mechanisms can also become compromised due to neurobiological changes caused by that stress: “When we feel distress, our brains and bodies are flooded with emotional messages that trigger the question, ‘am I safe?’ We react physiologically with an agitated limbic system (the ‘emotional’ part of the brain which deals primarily with fear, rage, social bonding, playfulness) that increases blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration as the levels of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline increase in our bodies.” (Desautels, 2016) A common term is toxic stress. This is where the constant activation of the body’s stress response systems, due to chronic or traumatic experiences and/or the absence of stable, caring relationships with adults, becomes toxic to brain architecture.

A critical point to note is that “chronic activation of the fear response can damage those parts of the brain responsible for cognition and learning” (Desautels, 2016). Connections in the brain are reduced and lost through toxic stress.

Research has shown that trauma and ACEs can be particularly damaging when they occur in the very early stages of a child’s development – namely the first three years when the brain is making those critical connections at a frenetic rate (Bush, 2017; NSPCC, 2017).

In affecting the brain’s cognitive processes, trauma can make critical thinking and problem-solving more difficult and emotional outbursts more likely.This can leave someone overwhelmed by feelings such as anxiety, isolation, rejection, anger or fear. So trauma, understandably, can undermine a person’s ability to cope with a range of challenges – emotionally, cognitively and physically. Needless, to say, when a child has experienced trauma in such a way, it can have a profound impact on their ability to cope, engage and learn in the classroom.”  

This information is clearly depicted in the infographic published by the Wave Trust shown below:

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Toxic stress affects the way we think, feel and behave. It is not just the individual’s school years that are affected but their whole life course.

Research carried out by Public Health Wales in October 2015 found that people exposed to 4 or more ACE’s during their childhood have an increased likelihood of developing health-harming behaviour such as drug misuse, involvement with the Criminal Justice system and development of mental health difficulties. Research has estimated that 1/8th of the population have more than 4 ACEs. One fifth of all children in the UK suffer abuse or neglect during their childhood.

If you would like to learn more about how STE is supporting ACE prevention please contact us via LinkedIn / facebook . 

To find out more about ACE prevention and the 70/30 campaign run by the Wave Trust to reduce child maltreatment in the UK by 70% by 2030 please visit:

 To find out more about ACE awareness and how the impact of ACE’s are being reduced in Wales please

To learn more about how a Trauma Informed Approach can reduce school exclusion listen to the BBC Sounds podcast, The Spark, with Kiran Gill, the educationalist and founder of The Difference.