Think Family x Adverse Childhood Experiences
03 December 2018
What did we do?
One of our most interesting projects at Cordis Bright this year involved researching the needs of vulnerable households across a local authority area in Wales. To do this, we worked with 15 different agencies in the area and looked at the prevalence of different indicators of vulnerability, which are known to increase the chances of poor outcomes.
Think Family identifies nine indicators that increase the chance of poor outcomes, especially if experienced in multiple combinations. The indicators are shown below.
A higher incidence of ACEs is internationally recognised as predicting negative outcomes in adulthood, such as smoking, incarceration and domestic violence. The nine ACEs we included in this exercise, and the proportion of adults in Wales affected by each one, are shown below.
Was there a link between Think Family indicators and ACEs?
Think Family indicators and ACEs have each been linked to health and social problems across a person’s lifespan, but surprisingly we couldn’t find any research that explored the relationship between the two sets of indicators. So we decided to use the information provided by the 15 agencies to compare the number of ACEs that parents had experienced when they were children, with the number of Think Family indicators experienced by their families now they were adults. The analysis (based on anonymous data for 152 families) found a positive relationship between the number of ACEs and the average number of Think Family indicators in a household, as shown below. In other words, families where parents have experienced more ACEs in their past might be more likely to experience household disadvantage now, such as low household income or poor-quality accommodation. This in turn is likely to impact the children living in those households.
The Welsh ACEs study found that people with four or more ACEs were particularly likely to experience poor outcomes in adulthood. The graph shows that households with four or more ACEs were likely to have around four to six Think Family indicators, making them especially vulnerable to poor outcomes. There weren’t any households in this cohort where parents had experienced all nine ACEs.
The relationship between ACEs and Think Family indicators is positive, but it is a weak correlation. The fact that the correlation was weak suggests the relationship between childhood experiences in the past and household disadvantage in the present is also influenced by other factors.
Was there a link between ACEs and Think Family indicators?
When we repeated this analysis the other way around – looking at the average number of ACEs experienced by parents in households with multiple Think Family indicators – the findings were similar: there appeared to be a weak correlation between the number of Think Family indicators and the average number of ACEs. This is shown in the graph below.
What does it mean?
All in all, this piece of analysis shows that there might be a relationship between people’s adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the level of household disadvantage they face when they are grown up and have children. This, in turn, can potentially impact on the next generation of children living in those households.
The relationship appears to be weak, and there are exceptions: there are families with high numbers of ACEs but low current disadvantage, and families with high current disadvantage but low numbers of ACEs. This illustrates the importance of other factors in determining the pathway from a childhood with multiple ACEs to a household facing disadvantage.
We think more research is needed here. In particular, we need to understand how individuals experiencing risks as children can build resilience so that their children are less likely to experience poor outcomes.
We think such research is likely to highlight the importance of putting interventions in place to reach vulnerable children as early as possible, giving them the best chance to overcome their early disadvantage and protecting them from poor health, violence, incarceration and other negative experiences in adulthood.