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Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) - What Are They?

ACEs are Adverse Childhood Experiences – experiences while growing up that can deeply impact a young person and profoundly affect emotional and physical health later in life. ACEs are assessed through a 10-question survey which covers ten areas of trauma that can be experienced before the age of 18 years. Answering 'yes' to a question counts as one ACE. An ACE score can range from 0 to 10.

ACEs are very common. However high ACE scores (scores of 4 or more) have been found to increase risk to a person’s health and well-being. For many people, ACE findings help explain conditions in their lives.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) at Cork Simon

Fifty Cork Simon service users took the ACE questionnaire as part of a collaborative study between Cork Simon, University College Cork’s School of Applied Psychology and Health Service Executive’s Adult Homeless Integrated Team into Trauma Informed Care at Cork Simon. The results were stark. Significant levels of childhood trauma were reported – levels much higher than those reported by the general public in the original U.S. ACE study.

The ACE Study Findings at Cork Simon

The study found particularly high levels of childhood trauma among Cork Simon service users – levels much high than those reported by the general public in the original ACE study.

It reveals how people using our services have suffered considerable degrees of abuse, neglect and distress during their formative years.

The study also reveals what happens when these wounds are carried into adulthood, especially in high doses – the higher a service user’s ACE score, the more likely they are to have experienced negative life events, from early drugs and alcohol use to higher levels of poor mental health, overdose, critical illness and domestic violence.

Developing a Trauma-Informed Service

At Cork Simon we work with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people. We operate a ‘low threshold’ service, meaning we accept and support people with multiple needs, chronic addictions and challenging behaviours – people who have experienced considerable trauma in their lives.

A trauma-informed approach facilitates a recognition of challenging behaviours as ‘survival strategies’ and in doing so enhances a services ability to engage with people in a more empathetic manner.

A trauma informed service asks ‘What happened to you?’ rather than ‘what’s wrong with you?’. ‘Reluctance to engage’ is replaced with ‘struggling to engage’. In a trauma informed service, the whole organisation understands the prevalence and impact of ACEs, the role trauma plays in people’s lives and the complex and varied paths for healing and recovery.

We are on a journey to develop a Trauma Informed Service at Cork Simon.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) at Cork Simon


Developing a Trauma-Informed Service


Origins of the ACE Study

The ACE questionnaire developed from a ground-breaking US public health study involving more than 17,000 people.

This study found a remarkably strong link between multiple traumatic events in childhood (ACEs) and chronic diseases, as well as social, emotional and behavioural problems.

It found that as ACE scores increase, so does the risk of disease, social and emotional problems.

Learn more about ACEs through these videos: