A thought provoking post on the Social Policy blog questions whether Adverse Childhood Experiences-based policy is really serving the best interests of children.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) refer to child abuse and stress experienced within the home.

ACEs are often used to inform policy and social work practice particularly within child protection, but the authors of the post argue that the indicators used are volatile and completely ignore external factors like poverty and inequality.

Instead, ACEs have traditionally focused on the family and as a result policy has tended to target, and blame, parents who are often struggling with dynamics not of their own making.

The post also talks about the use of algorithmic-based decisions to try to decipher who is at risk and the inherent problems with a tick-box approach.

The piece, which was published in full this month on Cambridge University Press’s Social Policy and Society section , is a must read. The authors, Professor Sue White, Professor Rosalind Edwards, Professor David Wastell and Professor Val Gillies offer some very important thoughts, including ones like these:

“ACEs form a chaotic and unstable knowledge base. This leads to problems with the explanatory weight that can be placed on ACEs. For rigorous tracing of causal inputs through to effects, ACEs need to be a clearly defined set of experiences. But the various definitions of ACEs do not form a cohesive body of definitive evidence and measurement.

Rather they are a shifting range of possible abuses and dysfunctions with inconsistencies in claims about severity, timing and duration.

For instance, common family circumstances such as parents’ divorce or separation, whether amicable or occurring when a child is 7 months or 17 years old, are given the same ACE dose weighting as exposure to domestic violence.

This chaotic approach leads to a great deal of overclaiming, often with over extrapolations from small effect sizes. And there is no attention to the influence of subsequent ameliorating or exacerbating influences, such as extended family support networks or being subject to racism and hate crime.

Interventions, which are frequently franchised ‘slices’ of particular models, are predominantly directed at mothers as primary attachment figures for children – either as a cause of their children’s ACEs, or as a buffer against, and solution to them. The conditions under which mothers bring up their children are skated around.

ACEs form a poor body of evidence for family policy and decision-making about child protection. Coupled with the chronic lack of services and family support in the UK, it is unclear what purpose producing individual ACE scores serves save perhaps to warrant rationing decisions.”

You can follow the professors on Twitter: @RosEdwards2,  @ProfSueWhite,  @ValGillies and @ProfDaveWastell