Opening the Time Capsule of ACEs: Reflections on How we Conceptualise Children's Experiences of Adversity and the Issue of Temporality

John Devaney, John Frederick, Trevor Spratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, we engage with some of the fundamental concepts underpinning the original adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) study and subsequent work, whilst recognising that the terminology of ACEs has in some ways become reductionist and problematic. Although an imperfect concept covering a range of childhood adversities at a personal, intrapersonal and community level, ACEs have utility in bridging scientific and lay communities. The evidence clearly identifies that numbers matter and that whereas children may be able to cope with a little adversity over a short period of time when they have good support networks, too much adversity over too long a time period, even with good support, will be problematic for the child and their family. Alongside exploring the cumulative impact of adversity, social workers and other professionals need to engage with the temporal component of when adversity is experienced, and for how long, together with the consequences for helping services in deciding when to intervene and for what period of time. This opens the discussion of who is best placed to support children and families experiencing certain types of adversity and how we think about structural issues such as poverty and community violence within the ACEs discourse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2247-2263
Number of pages17
JournalThe British Journal of Social Work
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • ACEs
  • adversity
  • child welfare
  • life course

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