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Children holding hands by Josue Michel

What are ACEs & PACEs?

Adverse Childhood Experiences, or “ACEs” can have long-lasting effects on physical and mental health. Fortunately, supportive relationships and environments or Protective and Compensatory Experiences (PACEs) can counteract the damaging effects of ACEs. Both children and adults benefit from PACEs and therapeutic activities that promote trauma recovery and stress regulation. 

The Science of ACEs

The ACE Study, first published in 1998, was the first large-scale study showing that adverse childhood experiences account for a large portion of the health problems in the U.S. and around the world. The ten types of ACEs most often studied include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, parent substance abuse, mental illness, and incarceration, divorce or separation, and domestic violence. Exposure to ACEs between birth and 18 years may result in neurobiological and behavioral adaptations to stress that make it more difficult to regulate emotions, control impulses, manage attention, and connect with others. Having a history of ACEs may also affect one’s parenting attitudes and behaviors. You can visit this CDC website for more information about ACEs. 

The Science of PACEs

Protective and Compensatory Experiences (PACEs) are positive experiences with enduring promotive effects on health and well-being. Drawing from decades of previous research on children who have experienced adversity, we have identified ten types of experiences that promote resilience. These ten experiences in childhood and adolescence include five relationship PACEs and five environmental PACEs. Relationship PACEs are having the unconditional love from a parent or other family member, a trusted mentor outside the family, a best friend, being part of a social group of peers, and volunteering. Resource or environmental PACEs include having basic needs met (such as food and shelter), having fairly administered rules and routines, and opportunities to learn, be physically active, and develop special skills and hobbies.

Our Research

Our own and others’ research are addressing the questions that continue to develop. For example, how do ACEs change our bodies, our brains, and our behavior? What can we do about it? How can we apply decades of developmental research on resilience to the new science of ACEs?  How does this affect our view of others and ourselves?  We have found answers not only from our own discipline of developmental science, but we also draw from fields as diverse as epidemiology, epigenetics, immunology, neuroscience, and infant mental health.

​The answers are still coming. Like any vibrant scientific endeavor, new studies are raising new questions as quickly as they answer old ones. What we know now is that ACEs can be devastating, but they can also be defeated – by making future ACEs less common, by making PACEs more prevalent and accessible, and by acknowledging and treating the effects of past ACEs in our own lives and in our communities.

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