ACEs may be linked to London's youth violence

London’s child health programmes must be extended to pre-school years to prevent the effects of violence lasting into adulthood.

Jul 5, 2018
By Serena Lander
Sadiq Khan

A report by London Assembly’s Health Committee has found that the Mayor’s Healthy Early Years programme fails to act at the most critical time of a child’s health – the first 1,000 days.

It also said that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) increase the child’s risk of violent and suicidal behaviour, and this must be considered when tackling London’s rise in youth violence.

One in eight children experience more than one ACE, such as physical or emotional neglect, sexual abuse, living around domestic violence or engaging in substance misuse.

The committee noted that a child in London is more likely to be murdered under the age of one than any other time during their life.

Its report said: “When a child or young person lives with ACEs, their brain does not get the rest it needs through the day as it is constantly reacting to threatening stimuli. This leads to the development of chronic stress in young people and everyday neutral situations seem threatening. This often leads young people to be anxious, disengaged and underachieving at school. It can lead to violence.”

And it pointed to a US study that showed 50 per cent of juvenile offenders in Florida had experienced four or more ACEs, far higher than the general population, suggesting a direct correlation between criminal behaviour and early years experiences.

The risk of a young person becoming serious, violent and chronic offenders was raised 58 per cent if they experienced physical abuse during their childhood and by 119 per cent if a member of their household was in prison.

To understand the rise in violent youth crime, these factors must be considered especially for children under the age of two years old.

Dr Onkar Sahota AM, Chair of the Health Committee said: “The first 1,000 days are critical. It can be as serious as to lead to a life of health complications or even a life of crime if we get it wrong.

“Some families need help in this critical time and the Mayor should step up to recognise that by two years old it may well sadly be too little, too late. We welcome his overall ambition, but we have heard from experts that waiting until infants enter childcare is just not good enough.

“He needs to stretch his efforts to intervene earlier and support parents from the beginning.”

The Children’s Commissioner released a report on Wednesday (July 4) into childhood vulnerability which estimated that 2.1 million children in England – one in six – are living vulnerable lives due to complex family circumstances.

It said there are 86,000 children who have a parent in prison, and around 27,000 children involved in street gangs.

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