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Examining the Difference Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and Childhood Trauma


resource from Child Trends explains that childhood adversity is widely recognized as posing risks to individual health and well-being. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are a subset of childhood adversities. While there are a variety of childhood adversity categories, the finite list of categories often overlooks social disadvantage and is therefore likely to overlook children in specific racial or ethnic groups, who are disproportionately affected.

On the other hand, childhood trauma is one possible outcome of exposure to adversity. It occurs when a person perceives an event or set of circumstances as extremely frightening, harmful, or threatening—either emotionally, physically, or both.

If we put an exclusive focus on ACEs and therefore avoid understanding the full range of childhood adversity, then we risk allowing some of the most vulnerable children who are in need of support to fall through the cracks while pathologizing and overtreating other children who do not need services.