adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)

small, fearful child
Take the Next Step received a grant from the Snohomish County Health and Safety Network to begin a pilot ACEs awareness and reduction program in the summer of 2012.

If you would like to learn more, receive free training, or join together with us, please call our Drop-In Center (360 794-1022) or send us an e-mail

We teach children
skills that develop resiliency to help them through the impacts of ACEs:

  • identify, process, and regulate emotions 
  • manage their anger and anxiety 
  • creatively problem solve 

We teach parents
new skills in behavior management and positive reinforcement techniques. We can help parents understand ACEs, how they may be suffering from the impacts themselves, and how ACEs will affect their children now and into the future.

Help everyone whose life has been impacted by ACEs become more resilient...

Learn to be people of HOPE
  • There are reasons to go on 
  • There is something to look forward to 
  • I can make things happen 

Download our Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences Brochure

  • Life is not random – I can contribute to it 
  • My life experience has meaning – I can build on it 

  • To know that they are not alone 
  • They can get through challenges of life

understanding adverse childhood experiences 
Most of us intuitively know that childhood experiences shape adult lives. New research is greatly expanding our understanding of this process—documenting how nurturing, stable environments help children develop the cognitive and emotional skills and robust sense of self they need to thrive as adults.

The research also shows how negative experiences can derail those processes, leading to a host of health problems and risk behaviors in children, teens and adults.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can be measure by the types of traumatic events a child experiences prior to the age of 18. These experiences can be narrowed down to a few key areas:
  • Recurrent physical abuse 
  • Recurrent emotional abuse 
  • An alcohol and/or drug abuser in the household 
  • An incarcerated household member 
  • Someone in the household is chronically depressed, mentally ill, institutionalized, or suicidal 
  • Mother is treated violently, including verbally 
  • One or no parents 
  • Emotional neglect
  • Physical neglect, including inadequate food, clothing, and shelter
  • Contact sexual abuse 

the research

In the mid-1980’s, Dr. Vincent Felitti noticed that the mostly likely patients to drop out of a weight loss program at a Kaiser Permanente clinic were those who were most successfully losing weight.

In a careful study of 300 patients, Dr. Felitti learned that many of those who dropped out of the program had been unconsciously using obesity as a shield against unwanted sexual attention or as a form of defense against personal attack. Where obesity was commonly viewed as the problem, it was often found to be an unconscious solution to far deeper problems.

This discovery led to a study of more than 17,000 people -- the results were totally unexpected:

ACEs are common...
  • Two-thirds of the participants reported at least one ACE

ACEs occur in groups...
  • Of those reporting at least one ACE, 87% reported at least one other ACE
  • 70% reported two or more others
  • more than 50% reported 3 or more others

if you have 6 or more ACES...

        life expectancy will likely be almost 20 years shorter than a person with no ACEs

the impacts

In children...

the stress related chemicals produced in response to ACEs kill “baby” brain cells so they can’t develop in early adulthood. A 2010 Washington State University study showed a direct correlation in the number of ACEs and:
  • increased risk of academic failure 
  • severe attendance problems 
  • severe behavior problems 
  • frequent health problems 

In teens with 4 or more ACEs: 
  • nearly 20% will have attempted suicide 
  • 25% will have intercourse before age 15 
  • 70% will become teen parents 

An adult with 4 or more ACEs compared to someone with no ACEs will be:
  • 2x more likely to be a smoker 
  • 7x more likely to be alcoholic 
  • 10x more likely to have injected street drugs 
  • 46x more likely to attempt suicide 

we’ll help

Every week in Kidz Club, our after school program for elementary school children, we...

Teach children skills that develop resiliency to help them through the impacts of ACEs:

  • identify, process, and regulate emotions
  • manage their anger and anxiety
  • creatively problem solve

We believe it is important for children to see beyond their present situation, to be able to imagine a different future, and to understand the larger world beyond their home and immediate community. Weekly enrichment activities and field trips help them learn and see new things.

Parents learn new skills in behavior management and positive reinforcement techniques during our “Family Dinner Together Nights”. We help parents understand ACEs, how they may be suffering from the impacts themselves, and how ACEs will affect their children now and into the future.

what are adverse childhood experiences?

ACEs are incidents that dramatically upset the safe, nurturing environments children need to thrive.

The original, seminal ACEs work, conducted from 1995 to 1997 by investigators Robert Anda and Vincent Felitti, included surveys of more than 17,000 Kaiser Permanente HMO members about their childhood exposure adverse experiences:

  1. Emotional abuse
  2. Emotional neglect
  3. Physical abuse
  4. Physical neglect
  5. Sexual abuse
  6. Drug addicted or alcoholic family member
  7. Incarceration of a family member
  8. Loss of a parent due to death, divorce, or abandonment
  9. Mentally ill, depressed, or suicidal family member
  10. Witnessing domestic violence

Those results, combined with the findings of physical exams and ongoing tracking of members’ health experiences, strongly documented the link between adverse childhood experiences and negative health and behavioral outcomes later in life.

our neighborhood and ACEs

A simple ten question test is an effective means of determining if a child or adult has experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences. As an adult, taking the test often helps people better understand how they became who they are and how the impacts of ACEs have shaped their lives.  You can find the test here >>>

Through conversations and anecdotal information, we conducted an informal ACE Score assessment by staff and volunteers of students attending Kidz Club. We believe that many of our students have an ACE Score in the 4 to 7 (out of ten) range.  A score of 1 indicates vulnerability, and 4 or more indicate almost certain adverse impacts on mental and physical health. 

Children have shared their experiences with us: hunger, unheated homes in winter, having to share a coat with a sibling so they could not attend school every day, witnessing physical abuse, being verbally abused by family members, being physically abused by family members, worn tattered and/or dirty clothing, living with an addicted family member, living with a mother’s boyfriend or father’s girlfriend, having divorced parents or parents who never married, family members in prison, and one young girl at age 6 being left at home to care for younger siblings for several days.

A 2010 Washington State University study showed that there is a direct correlation in the number of ACE’s and the increased risk of academic failure, severe attendance problems, severe behavior problems, and frequent health problems. 

Nationally, about 30% of children experience complex trauma. In poverty areas and marginalized communities this can rise to 85%...72% of the children attending our nearest elementary school live in poverty.

the next step ACE reduction and awareness program

Awareness for staff and volunteers: Take the Next Step will include an ACE component in all staff, volunteer, and Board training. If you are interested in receiving training, please e-mail us for a schedule of our workshops. 

Child Education: We'll teach our Kidz Club children skills to identify, process and regulate emotions, anxiety management skills, and problem solving skills.

Child Enrichment: “People cannot realize what they cannot imagine and we don’t imagine possibilities that fall outside our mental model of how the world works.”

We believe that an part of our ACE Reduction program will be to inspire children to realize that they can imagine a world beyond their family and community. The existing cultural norms are overwhelming for “our” children – they need to see a different way of living. Weekly enrichment activities will be provided by volunteers and we'll take a number of field trips to see new and exciting places.

We'll help each child grow more comfortable in, and to be a part of, the community at large. This will include understanding cultural nuances and acquiring language skills as necessary.

Adult Education: Parents will learn what ACEs are, how they may be suffering themselves, and how ACEs impact their children in both the immediate and long term. In a step-by-step teaching of parenting skills, each learned skill will form the basis for the next new skill. Parents will leave with new behavior management / positive reinforcement skills that will help them in parenting in general and in addressing the underlying causes of ACEs.

Home Visitation: Studies have shown, on average, a 40% reduction in child maltreatment by parents and other family members participating in home visitation programs. Parents may elect to participate in home visits with a bi-lingual Licensed Family and Marriage Therapist to discuss specific concerns and issues.

If you would like to be part of this in any way, as a participant or volunteer, please call our Drop-In Center (360 794-1022) or send us an 

links and additional resources on ACEs

The Snohomish County Health and Safety Network is a grass roots citizens’ group of educators, youth, homemakers, human service providers, and business leaders working to strengthen families and prevent youth violence and substance abuse.

Washington State is one of the leaders in ACE policy and implementation. The Washington Family Policy Council is an excellent source of information.
Arizona Public Television interviewed Dr. Vincent Feliti, on of the lead investigators in the original ACE research study.  Dr. Feliti tells us in an easy to understand manner, what ACEs are, how they shape us, and the impacts on our society.  The interview is less than ten minutes and will give you a good background in ACEs.  Watch Interview>>>

The Centers for Disease Control has extensive information on ACEs and a good overview of the original research linking ACEs to adult obesity, chronic diseases, addictions, and mental health issues.  

CDC - ACE Study>>

Read how by applying an understanding of the impact of ACEs on their student population Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tries new approach to school discipline — suspensions drop 85%


You can become part of this important work as a volunteer or donor.  Join the Next Step to offer friendship, help, and hope to our neighbors in need...or e-mail us to let us know how you'd like be get involved!
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how we help

for children

after school program

summer program

for teens and youth

teen parent group

for homeless and street involved youth


More than 40 churches, community organizations, and businesses have come alongside to help and partner with The Next Step. Find out how you can become a part of this important work and...

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