The Bassuk Center

Understanding ACEs

Breaking the generational cycle of homelessness

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) were first identified when researchers looking at health care data discovered poor health and mental health outcomes for adults who reported ten specific adverse experiences during childhood.

ACEs include: physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; physical or emotional neglect; mother treated violently; household substance use; household mental illness; family separation/divorce; and an incarcerated household member.

As the number of ACEs for a child increases, the likelihood of developing multiple health and mental health conditions as an adult also increases, including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, clinical depression, substance use disorders, and suicide. Outcomes for adults who experience four or more ACEs include:

  • Twice the rates of cancer, heart disease and stroke.
  • Four times the rate of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Five to seven times the rate of substance use.
  • Six times the rate of suicide attempts.

Even while still young, children with high ACE scores are more likely to be anxious and depressed, and have cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioral health issues. These include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and developmental delays as well as speech and language deficits.

For children in homeless shelters, very long stays during their critical developmental years compound the ACEs prevalent in their lives. This increases their rates of developmental challenges, serious disease, disability, early death, and becoming homeless again later in their lives.

ACEs are more frequent in minority and low-income communities where families are most likely to experience housing instability. This helps to explain the pernicious generational cycle of family homelessness. To learn more, see Aced Out In Tier II Shelters.

Mom with Child
Mother with Child