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Impact of Early Adverse Childhood Experiences on Development and Educational Progression of Children

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This assessment will explore the impact early Adverse Childhood Experiences can have on the development and educational progression of children and young people who are looked after in Scotland. In order to understand the impact that Adverse Childhood Experiences can have on the behaviour of children in the classroom and attainment, first a definition of “looked after” and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) must be determined. This assignment will also, with reference to literature discuss what support and interventions that are available for these children and young people in order to overcome the barriers and challenges they face.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), article 20 states that if a young person’s needs cannot be met by their immediate family then the government, within the guidance of their laws, must provide suitable alternative arrangements (United Nations, 1989). Alternative care arrangements can take the form of foster placements, kinship care, adoptions, and secure and residential care. Within the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, section 17.6, the term ‘looked after’ is defined as a child who is being accommodated by a local authority (Scottish Government, 2013). This is commonly known as corporate parenting, where partnerships between services and agencies are made in order to take responsibility for meeting the needs of these individuals (Scottish Executive, 2007). In Scotland, there are two categories that being looked after are determined by a compulsory supervision order and a permanence order. A compulsory supervision order (CSO) is arranged by the Children’s Hearing System after a referral from the Children’s Reporter (Welch, 2016). Welch (2016) highlighted that under this order the child can be looked after at home with the parents where there is no condition of residence, or away from home in foster care, kinship care, a residential unit, or a secure unit. Outlined in the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007, a permanence order is granted by the court to the local authority to fully or partly remove the parental rights and responsibilities of the child from the parents and place them permanently in the care of a specified other, which can also be in the forms of foster care, kinship care, a residential unit, or a secure unit (Scottish Government, 2007).

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There are several reasons, both voluntary and compulsory, why a child may find themselves being looked after or on the child protection register: voluntary reasons may include a disability that requires additional care, the child being out of control or regularly being involved with the justice system or sudden illness or death of a parent. Whereas compulsory reasons may consist of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse, or living in a household with a known offender, or neglect (Scottish Government, 2020). According to the Care Profiling Study, 72% of the parents involved within the care proceedings had experienced: poor mental illness, drug or alcohol misuse, have learning difficulties, experience domestic violence, or live chaotic lifestyles, which are all factors which can contribute to a child experiencing neglect or abuse (Masson, Pearce, & Bader. 2008). According to the Scottish Government’s most recent statistics from the year 2018–2019, there were 16,068 children in total looked after or on the child protection register in Scotland, of that 14,015 children were confirmed looked after, 2,599 were on the child protection register and only 84 children were in a secure unit accommodation. As a result, 2018–2019 is the seventh consecutive year to have a decrease in the number of looked after children, and a 5% decrease in the number of children registered as looked after compared to 2017–2018 (Scottish Government, 2020).

For many children, the reasons they become a part of the looked after category can be identified as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Originally the term Adverse Childhood Experience was created during Permente’s study in the 1990s in America, which concluded that there was a correlation between traumatic experiences at an early age and health complications later on in life (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019). Boullie and Blair (2018) define Adverse Childhood Experiences as traumatic events that have occurred in a young person’s life which have the potential to lead into long-term negative consequences on their development, health and well-being, education, and life opportunities. Boullie and Blair explained further that ACEs can be separated into three categories, neglect, abuse, and household dysfunction. Neglect entails both physical and emotional trauma, abuse includes physical, emotional, and sexual trauma and household dysfunction includes a variety of events such as mental illness within the household, witness to domestic abuse, a breakup in family relations such as divorce, exposed to substance misuse and a parent spending time in prison.

In 2015 NHS Wales conducted a study based on 2000 participants aged eighteen to seventy, in order to analyse the impact Adverse Childhood Experiences would have on an individual long term. Of the 2000 participants 52% reported having experienced no ACEs, 20% reported experiencing one ACE, 13% identified experiencing up to 3 ACEs, and only 14% reported having experienced more than four ACEs. As a result of experiencing more than four ACEs, these individuals were at higher risk of experiencing death at an earlier age, with more health conditions relating to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. It was also reported that a bigger percentage of individuals who experience more than four ACEs suffered from poor mental health and riskier behaviour such as unprotected sexual intercourse, resulting in more underage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (NHS Wales and Public Health Wales, 2015). Larkin and park (2012) also concluded from their study of the relation between ACEs and long-term effects, that individuals who experience four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences are at a higher risk of engaging in risky behaviour. 27.9% of participants reported drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, 65% of people reported cannabis misuse and 20.3% admitted to using heroin. As well as being at a higher risk of developing illnesses such as heart and liver disease, diabetes and having mental health problems (Larkin & Park, 2012).

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Impact of Early Adverse Childhood Experiences on Development and Educational Progression of Children. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
“Impact of Early Adverse Childhood Experiences on Development and Educational Progression of Children.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
Impact of Early Adverse Childhood Experiences on Development and Educational Progression of Children. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 4 Feb. 2023].
Impact of Early Adverse Childhood Experiences on Development and Educational Progression of Children [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2023 Feb 4]. Available from:
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