Directions: The ACEs Study and Family Life Education

Dawn Cassidy, M.Ed., CFLE, Director of Family Life Education
Dawn Cassidy

At the fall 2011 NCFR Annual Conference I met with a woman named Ellen Taner to discuss her ideas about advancing the field of family life education (FLE). Ellen came from a public health background and had been actively involved in parenting education within the realm of substance abuse prevention. She introduced me to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, which opened the door to an exciting and promising approach to promoting the value of family life education.

ACEs are potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being. Experiencing events or conditions that cause stress to the maturing brain can negatively affect development in childhood and have implications for health in adulthood.

ACEs can be categorized into three different types: abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual), neglect (physical and emotional), and household dysfunction (mental illness, incarcerated relative, mother treated violently, substance abuse, and divorce). As the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk for negative health outcomes. Possible risk outcomes can be categorized as behavior (lack of physical activity, smoking, alcoholism, drug use, and missed work) or physical and mental health (severe obesity, diabetes, depression, suicide attempts, sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and broken bones).

Many ACEs occur within the context of a child’s home. Professionals working with or for families are keenly aware of the important role of family and home environment in influencing physical and mental health as well as behavior, both in the short term and—as the ACEs study highlighted—in the long term.

The ACEs study can provide an effective platform for promoting the value of family life education. Family life educators can be identified as having the knowledge and skills to assist families in creating a positive home environment and to reduce the likelihood of incidents and environments known to contribute to ACEs. Increasing awareness in the health-care system of the impact of ACEs on adult health and of the potential role of professionals trained in Family Science in reducing ACEs is a logical approach for promoting both family life education and Certified Family Life Educators (CFLEs) as providers. The NCFR white paper “Family Life Education: A Profession With a Proven Return on Investment” includes helpful data on the financial value of FLE in the context of health and behavioral issues (see

I recently learned about the ACEs Connection Network, an online network of people interested in sharing information and exploring resources and tools that will help them work together to create resilient families, systems, and communities. A companion site,, provides news to the general public. Through the ACEs Connection Network, I learned about, and attended, the 2016 Midwest ACE Summit. Much of the focus of this two-day conference was on the importance of recognizing trauma and identifying methods and approaches for treating those who have experienced trauma. As is often the case, there were only a few sessions focused specifically on approaches to reduce or prevent these negative experiences to begin with. However, I was encouraged by a session delivered by CFLE Jerica Berge, “Prenatal Group Visits in Family Medicine: Building a System of Care for the Prevention of Multi-Generational Transmission of ACEs.” The concept of a multigenerational or two-generation approach provides opportunities to meet the needs of both children and parents and is another promising strategy that has positive implications for the field of Family Science and family life education professionals.

NCFR will continue to search for approaches, studies, and initiatives that recognize the importance of the family in having a positive impact on individual health and well-being. We are in the process of developing new promotional materials for family life education in general, and the CFLE credential specifically. This will include new print materials, an updated video about family life education, and infographics about FLE and CFLE. As professionals working in the field of Family Science, you no doubt have ideas, or even existing examples, of how you or your company or organization spread the word about FLE. Please share with me any ideas you might have for emphasizing the important work of Family Science.

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