ACEs: ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’

In December 2017, the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee launched an Inquiry into the evidence-base for early years intervention, with a particular focus on programmes influenced by the concept of ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ or ACEs.

CPCS associates and social policy specialists from a number of universities were concerned that the inquiry’s remit was open to considering contributions that were more circumspect about the ACEs approach. Professor Rosalind Edwards, University of Southampton; Professor Val Gillies, University of Westminster; Professor Ellie Lee and Dr Jan Macvarish, University of Kent; Professor Susan White, University of Sheffield and Professor David Wastell, University of Nottingham therefore collaborated to produce a submission which sets out some grounds on which the claims made about ACEs might be questioned.




The written contribution opens as follows:

‘This submission aims to encourage the Committee to consider that, as in any area of science and policy, evidence concerning the existence of and cure for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is unresolved and still contested. We are concerned that the remit of the Committee may be limited by a presumption that evidence for both ACEs and successful preventive intervention is already established, pre-empting the Inquiry’s aim to ‘examine the strength of the evidence linking adverse childhood experiences with long-term negative outcomes’.

There are good reasons to be circumspect. The notion of Adverse Child Experiences is the latest in a long line of diagnoses of, and simple solutions to, complex social issues in the search for interventions that ‘work’. The ACEs approach is not a neutral, evidence-based diagnosis. Rather, it reflects certain presumptions and is driven by particular agendas and interest groups (for example, what has been labelled the ‘First Three Years Movement’). The ACEs approach, as with other attempts to diagnose and label sections of the population as deficient, has the potential for damaging consequences for the children and adults who are said to possess such deficiencies. Further, viewing social issues through the prism of ACEs may well inhibit our ability to identify and respond to human needs…..’

Read the full submission here.

After the submission was published by the Committee, it was circulated to fellow academics similarly concerned about the limitations of the ACEs approach.

Respondents included the following and can be read in the document Discussing the Problem with ACEs

Professor Erica Burman, Manchester Institute of Education, The University of Manchester. Read Erica’s response here.

Dr Sarah Bekaert, Senior Lecturer Child Health, Oxford Brookes University

Paul Bywaters, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Coventry University

Dr. Robbie Duschinsky, Head of the Applied Social Science Group within the Primary Care Unit, and Director of Studies in Sociology at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

Professor Dan Goodley, School of Education, University of Sheffield

Professor David Gillborn, Director, Centre for Research in Race & Education, University of Birmingham

Dr Dimitra Hartas, Associate Professor, Centre for Education Studies, University of Warwick. Read Dimitra’s response here.

Dr. Michael Lambert, Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, University of Liverpool

Professor Kate Morris, Head of Department of Social Work, University of Sheffield

Dr Lindsay O’Dell, Director of Postgraduate Studies, Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, The Open University

Dr Jessica Pykett,Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Birmingham

Professor Diane Reay, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

Professor Roger Smith, Professor of Social Work, Durham University


This page will be kept up-to-date with the progress of the inquiry. Further contributions and comments can be emailed to