Adverse childhood experiences and sources of childhood resilience: a retrospective study of their combined relationships with child health and educational attendance

BMC Public Health. 2018 Jun 26;18(1):792. doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-5699-8.


Background: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) including maltreatment and exposure to household stressors can impact the health of children. Community factors that provide support, friendship and opportunities for development may build children's resilience and protect them against some harmful impacts of ACEs. We examine if a history of ACEs is associated with poor childhood health and school attendance and the extent to which such outcomes are counteracted by community resilience assets.

Methods: A national (Wales) cross-sectional retrospective survey (n = 2452) using a stratified random probability sampling methodology and including a boost sample (n = 471) of Welsh speakers. Data collection used face-to-face interviews at participants' places of residence. Outcome measures were self-reported poor childhood health, specific conditions (asthma, allergies, headaches, digestive disorders) and school absenteeism.

Results: Prevalence of each common childhood condition, poor childhood health and school absenteeism increased with number of ACEs reported. Childhood community resilience assets (being treated fairly, supportive childhood friends, being given opportunities to use your abilities, access to a trusted adult and having someone to look up to) were independently linked to better outcomes. In those with ≥4 ACEs the presence of all significant resilience assets (vs none) reduced adjusted prevalence of poor childhood health from 59.8 to 21.3%.

Conclusions: Better prevention of ACEs through the combined actions of public services may reduce levels of common childhood conditions, improve school attendance and help alleviate pressures on public services. Whilst the eradication of ACEs remains unlikely, actions to strengthen community resilience assets may partially offset their immediate harms.

Keywords: Adverse childhood experiences; Asthma; Digestive diseases; Resilience; School attendance.

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences / statistics & numerical data*
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Resilience, Psychological*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Schools*
  • Wales
  • Young Adult