The experiences that children have whilst growing up put the foundations for their health and wellbeing throughout life. Young children experience their world through their relationships with parents and other caregivers. Promoting safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments can have a positive impact on a broad range of health problems and on the development of skills that help children reach their full potential.
Safety, stability, and nurturing are three critical qualities of relationships and environments that make a difference for children as they grow and develop. So, providing children with the best start in life is a fundamental aspect of European health policy. However, million children in the European Region are estimated to be affected by child maltreatment and will suffer other stressful experiences, such as witnessing domestic violence or living in a household affected by substance misuse or mental illness2. Adversities experienced during childhood are often referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The term ACEs has been accepted to mean: “intra–familial events or conditions causing chronic stress responses in the child’s immediate environment. These include notions of maltreatment and deviation from societal norms”3. ACEs may cause high levels of chronic stress (i.e., toxic stress) that rewires the brain’s developing architecture (i.e., connections between cognitive, emotional, and social development). Dr. Anda and Dr. Felitti began the ACEs Study in the late 90s and they found numerous correlations between ACEs and many disorders in adulthood, proving an increased vulnerability of the range subject to adverse experiences. As a result, children who experience ACEs are more likely to engage in risky behaviours in adolescence and have health problems as adults. These problems include alcohol abuse, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, smoking, suicide, violence towards others, physical inactivity, depression, psychiatric disorders and many chronic diseases.