2.1 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Trauma Explained

2.1 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Trauma Explained

As mentioned before, the term NEET is defined as “a young person that is both not employed and does not attend any courses (formal or informal education, or any kind of training)”. Despite this definition of “NEETs”, it is still considered a very heterogeneous group of people, and the term can be considered very superficial. This includes people with diverse backgrounds, such as: early school-leavers; individuals with disabilities; the inactive female force; single-parent families; economic immigrants and refugees; unemployed young persons. It has been noted that the majority of NEETs are women. This might be explained with the lack of adequate tools for reconciliation between family and work, and the consequent decision for women to engage in informal care activities.

In this category, migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, who have run away from wars, terrorism, and adverse environments, are included. People who have been incarcerated and are currently looking for a way into the labour market can fall in this category. These target-groups, due to past experiences, can live traumatised, and psychologically unstable. Therefore, it is important to address this need by educating professionals working with NEETs on how to spot a psychologically unstable person and lead them to a professional for further support.

This module will offer such assistance. It will start with a brief description of what trauma is, the consequences of it on the development of our brain; the different reactions towards a traumatic experience; and finally, provide some information about resilience.

Understanding trauma. Before any explanation of a trauma, it is important to underline that this definition is very dependent on the person’s reaction to the supposed “traumatic” experience.

Herman (1993) defends that “traumatic reactions” occur when experiencing or witnessing an extreme bodily violation, pain, death, or damage in which no avoidance is perceived as possible.

A related conceptualisation is presented by the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994). It defines a potential traumatic stressor as the:

“Direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s integrity; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; or learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate (p. 424).”


The age of childhood is defined as from birth until 17 years old. Within these years, potentially traumatic events may occur in a child’s life that leads to trauma, called Adverse Childhood Experience, or ACE. How can we identify someone who has experienced ACE? The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), defines it as:

Someone who has, for example:

  • Lived through a family members suicide attempt or death
  • Witnessed domestic or community violence
  • Experienced bullying, abuse, or neglect
  • Gone through mental health and/or substance use issues
  • Been caught up in a parental separation or a parental figure going to jail


A child living through an environment as such, grows alongside unhealthy or absent concepts of safety, stability, and bonding, potentially leading to chronic health problems, mental issues, and substance use in adult years. ACE’s, however, are preventable and, when they occur, there are ways to intervene and limit the scope of their impact.

Note: The examples given do not account for a complete list of adverse experiences, there are many more possible triggers of traumatic experiences that can hinder a person’s wellbeing.


Reflective questions for the reader:

  1. After reading this, how would you accurately explain trauma to friends during coffee?
  2. To what degree do you feel able to help someone in such a situation?
  3. Have you or someone you know, experienced something like a traumatic experience, that you can relate with?