Adverse Childhood Experiences


Early relationships between a child and their caregiver are critical to create emotional bonds. It is through these early relationships that a child’s emotions, trust, and understanding develop to understand themselves and the world around them.

The impact associated between childhood trauma on long-term health and wellbeing was initially studied by Kaiser Permanente from 1995-1997 and is referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences.  An Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) is traumatic experience prior to the age of 18.

The 10 ACEs are defined as:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Growing up in a household with a family member who is:
    • Depressed or mentally ill
    • Addicted to alcohol or other drugs
    • In prison
  • Witnessing a mother being abused
  • Separation or divorce of parents

ACEs result in toxic stress that can harm a child’s brain. Positive experiences in childhood often lead to healthy and productive adulthood. ACEs can negatively impact a child’s brain development and physical, mental, and social behaviors increasing risk for poorer mental health, teen pregnancy and juvenile delinquency.

Adults with higher ACEs have poorer health outcomes, such as increased levels of toxic stress, higher risk for alcoholism, illegal drug use, depression, suicide, partner violence, smoking, obesity, and heart disease.  ACEs tend to occur in clusters, such that people who experienced at least one ACE are likely to have experienced multiple ACEs in childhood. The impact of ACEs is multigenerational.

Childcare providers, schools, and human service providers have increased awareness and are seeing the complexity of ACEs and the impact on children in Marathon County, but comprehensive community action needs to be furthered to address solutions.

This is a new community health priority for Marathon County. Increasing community awareness on the implications of ACEs and how they can be reduced and prevented throughout the lifespan is vital.

Opportunities exist to expand and coordinate ACE Interface trainings including an understanding of what are best practices around Trauma-Informed Care in various community sectors throughout Marathon County. Building resiliency in parents and children is crucial in reducing the impact of childhood trauma. Resilience is the ability to return to being healthy and hopeful after bad things happen. Research shows that if a safe environment is provided for children and they learn how to be resilient, that helps reduce the effects of ACEs.

Changing our social norm in Marathon County from “What is wrong with you?” to “What has happened to you?” is pivotal.


Preventing or reducing the impact of potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being.

Goal Statements:

  • Maintain an ACEs/TIC Collaborative Initiative in Marathon County.
  • Increase community providers and the public’s understanding of the link between Adverse Childhood Experiences and overall mental and physical well-being.

Shared Measurement:

  • Percentage of high school students that reported having at least one teacher or other adult in their school who they can talk to if they had a problem. Baseline: 73% Source: 2015 Marathon County Youth Risk Behavior Survey (.pdf).
  • Percentage of youth who report that their parent(s) have a history of alcohol abuse and drug abuse. Baseline: 18% for alcohol abuse, 16% for drug abuse; Source:  2015-17 LIFE Report, Marathon County Social Services – Juvenile Justice.
  • Percentage of youth who indicated that someone living in the family home had been in jail or spent time in prison. Baseline: 39%; Source: Marathon County Social Services – Juvenile Justice.


View the Adverse Childhood Experiences workplan here.

Adult hands holding baby feet