Adverse childhood experiences have far-reaching consequences

29 May 2019
Conference participants
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas

Belgrade, 29 May 2019 - For every 100 adults in Serbia, about 70 have experienced at least one form of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) repeatedly during childhood, and about 20 have experienced four or more, show the findings of UNICEF’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.

The study, carried out in partnership with the Institute of Psychology and the Institute for Mental Health, offers an analysis of the prevalence of risk factors, adverse childhood experiences and their consequences in terms of health and education outcomes.

An adverse childhood experience describes a traumatic experience in a person’s life occurring before the age of 18 that the person remembers as an adult.

Experiences during childhood can affect health throughout the life course.

Children who experience stressful and poor-quality childhoods are more likely to adopt health-harming behaviours during adolescence, which can themselves lead to mental illnesses and diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes later in life.

ACEs are not just a concern for health.

Individuals who experience ACEs are more likely to perform poorly in school, more likely to be involved in crime, and ultimately less likely to be productive members of a society.

“The process of caring for children begins in the earliest childhood and depends to a large extent on the environment in which a child grows up. Therefore, it is our obligation to provide our children with a chance for the best start in life and a good basis for the future. I emphasize that our basic principle is zero tolerance for every kind of violence, and the results of this study will be used as guidelines in creating equal conditions for every child, and in particular in preventing the abuse and neglect of children,” said Prof Dr Slavica Djukic Dejanovic, Minister without Portfolio in the Government of the Republic of Serbia in charge of demography and population policy.

Overall findings will inform future programming and development of interventions aimed at violence prevention, as well as the development of programmes of support to victims of violence.

“Adverse childhood experiences affect all aspects of life, and it is therefore necessary to have cross-sectoral measures. Among other things, it is necessary to educate children about their rights, to strengthen parental skills, to improve the competencies of the health, social, educational and criminal justice systems in preventing adverse childhood experiences, to introduce a total ban on the corporal punishment of children, and to ensure and strengthen the financing of the prevention and protection system against violence against children,” said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Representative in Serbia.

Preventing ACEs can improve health across the whole life course, enhancing individuals’ well-being and productivity.

For every 100 adults in Serbia, about 70 have experienced at least one form of ACE repeatedly during childhood, and about 20 have experienced four or more.

The findings will be of key importance to the social welfare system, as they can provide input for advancing risk assessment tools and procedures as well as for shaping response services that target families living in multiple deprivation, where children are at “the edge” of the care system and are at risk of being placed into care.

"The Ministry highly appreciates any kind of scientific research that are the basis for policy planning in this area. In the past two years, the Ministry has been working on the adoption of the Strategy for the Prevention and Protection of Children against Violence, the Accompanying Action Plan and the General Protocol, as well as amendments to the Family Law, which specifically applies to the prohibition of physical punishment. Also, on 5 June 2019, a public debate will begin on the proposal for a new Law on Children and Children's Ombudsman,” said Dragan Vulevic, Special Adviser to the Minister for Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs.

Overview of the findings:

  • For every 100 adults in Serbia, about 70 have experienced at least one form of ACE repeatedly during childhood, and about 20 have experienced four or more;
  • 38% of respondents reported experiencing community violence in childhood;
  • Four or more ACEs were experienced by about 40% of respondents;
  • Males were more likely to experience different ACEs: more likely to be victims of bullying, be involved in physical fights, witness community violence and witness collective violence;
  • Women were more likely to experience living with a person with depression;
  • Respondents from urban areas were more exposed to various ACEs, such as physical abuse, psychological abuse, parental separation, bullying and community violence;

Download the Study on the link here

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