How Adverse Childhood Experiences Can Lead To Crime

Adverse childhood experiences hope

An article was published in MLive about the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. It covered how the county has adopted a new program – Handle With Care.

Handle With Care is basically a training and informational program designed to help teachers and school administrators to recognize the signs of trauma in children.

In addition, it focuses on giving children some help at school by being understanding and not labeling the behavior associated with trauma as problem behavior by punishing it. Instead, the goal is to give students extra attention, space, and help to process the trauma.

The school implemented the program after it realized some students had witnessed a violent shooting in their apartment complex. It could also be seen as a response to new scientific findings linking what behavioral scientists call “Adverse Childhood Experiences” and a whole range of addictive behaviors which cause physical illness and early death.

Adverse Child Experiences (ACE)

There are many ways in which adverse childhood experiences can happen. However, research has shown that these experiences tend to be clustered for many people. Thus, the addiction and violence loop that seems to keep people “down” or stuck in a criminal rut for their whole lives. Here is a list of possible ACEs but ACEs aren’t limited to these things:

ACEs include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within the household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study

The 1995-1997 CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is the main one informing this new Handle With Care program.

According to the article, “The study has been developed into a points system to evaluate childhood stress, and Washtenaw County ranked higher than the statewide average for Adverse Childhood Experiences in 2013 for adult respondents who, during childhood, experienced verbal abuse, lived with someone with a substance use disorder, suffered physical abuse or lived with someone with a mental illness. That’s according to data from Washtenaw County Public Health, provided on the Washtenaw ISD’s Handle with Care website.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), adverse childhood experiences act like a foundation for an escalating pattern of negative and self-harmful behaviors. They can lead to social, emotional and cognitive impairment, which lead to the adoption of self-risk behaviors like substance abuse.

These, in turn, lead to disease, disability, and social problems like crime and often have an early death as their end.

For an adult stuck in some of the consequences of adverse childhood experiences, it can be hard enough to see that for what it is. It seems even more daunting to take steps to heal from these early traumatic experiences.

However, there is hope. According to an article in Psychology Today, the brain is always able to change and heal. But the earlier someone can get help, the less likely they are to turn to criminal behaviors later in life.


If you are concerned that you or a loved one has may be affected by adverse childhood experiences in a way that is influencing your life negatively or go online and find an ACE test. If you need help, reach out to a professional.