Exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences has a significant, lasting impact on a person’s life. ACEs have harmful repercussions on adult health and have been linked to an increased risk of mental illness, chronic health problems and substance abuse.
“If a person has four or more of these experiences in their childhood, their life expectancy is 20 years less than the general population,” Belinda says.
ACEs can also negatively affect a person’s life opportunities — such as education, employment and earning potential — and leave them increasingly vulnerable to prolonged stress. Consequently, they can alter brain development and impact things like attention span and decision-making.
“I’m quite interested in why people offend and what has happened in their life that’s led them to offend. In terms of ACEs, these can change a young person’s physiology, essentially making them more likely to take risks because they’re already in a heightened state,” Belinda says.
The more negative events a person experiences during childhood, the more detrimental the impact on their overall health and well-being. In terms of juvenile offenders, those exposed to multiple ACEs are at an increased risk to reoffend.
“It’s quite alarming, because some of these experiences are not uncommon. For example, a parental separation is something a lot of people go through,” Belinda says.
As part of her Master’s research, Belinda is currently looking into existing literature on the link between childhood adversity and recidivism in the youth offender population. Recidivism refers to a person’s relapse into offending after experiencing the negative consequences of their actions, such as arrest or imprisonment.
In the past, solutions have focused on identifying risk factors for juvenile offending in order to remove the young person from such risk. But often, this is not possible. For instance, we cannot stop a young person’s parents from separating or suffering from mental illness.
Belinda’s research on attachment style, resilience and self-esteem highlights the possibility of other avenues for achieving positive outcomes.
“I’ll be looking at things like the relationship between a young person’s attachment style and the types of offences they’re committing or if they’re choosing to reoffend,” she says.
“For example, a lot of young people coming through the criminal justice system are involved in child protective services and they may not have strong attachments to their family or community. In my field of work, I’ve seen kids form attachments with their peers, which perpetuates the problem because they end up offending together and that’s how they connect with one another.”