Scottish Violence Reduction Unit

Negative events in childhood can affect a person’s whole life. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) increase the risk of everything from depression, alcohol abuse and incarceration through to conditions like heart disease and even cancer. It’s estimated* up to half of the Scottish population will have experienced at lease one ACE. According to one study those who have suffered four or more ACEs are twice as likely to binge drink, seven times more likely to have been involved in violence in the last year and 11 times more likely to have used heroin or been in prison.

SVRU research coordinator Will Linden, said: “If we want to drastically reduce violence, cut our prison population and improve the health of our nation then we must ensure our children are raised in a safe and healthy environment.”We know that ACEs don’t have to lead to lifelong trauma. With the right help children can be protected. Whatever your role we can all make a difference.

So to raise awareness of ACEs and look at how we can build a resilient Scotland. The SVRU, in collaboration with social enterprise Re Attachment, are now holding events across the country. Each gathering starts with a showing of the acclaimed documentary ‘Resilience: The Biology of Stress & The Science of Hope’ which provides an accessible look at the science behind ACEs and how that knowledge is being used to break the cycle of trauma in America.

The film is followed by a panel discussion tapping into local expertise in each area with everyone from psychologists to teachers, police officers, lawyers and carers taking part in a question and answer session.

The events are free and aimed at anyone who works with young people or those affected by early years trauma. You can find the nearest event to you here ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences and includes trauma such as: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect, domestic violence, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, incarcerated household member. This isn’t a comprehensive list there are other trauma’s such as bullying which have been included in recent studies.

What long-term harm can ACEs do? As the number of ACEs suffered increases so does the risk of a range of conditions including: alcoholism, drug use, depression, domestic violence, smoking, suicide, adolescent pregnancy, diseases including: cancer, stroke, diabetes etc.

According to an ACEs study in England those with 4 or more ACEs are: 2 x more likely to currently binge drink and have a poor diet, 3 x more likely to smoke, 5 x more likely to have had sex while under 16 years old, 6 x more likely to have had or caused an unplanned teenage pregnancy, 7 x more likely to have been involved in violence in the last year and 11 x more likely to have used heroin/crack or been incarcerated.

How many people in Scotland have ACEs? There is no current study in Scotland looking at the prevalence of ACES, but based on a study in England it has been estimated that up to 50% of the Scottish population may have experienced at least one ACE. Therefore it’s estimated the health of around half the Scottish population may have been affected.

Does everyone who suffers ACEs have such negative outcomes? No, some children have been shown to display resilience to such events. Often such children have had at least one stable and positive relationship with a close adult. This appears to protect them from the worst effects of ACEs.

How would society benefit if we addressed ACEs? According to the English study we could reduce: unintended teen pregnancy by 38%, smoking by 16%, heroin/crack use by 59%, the victims of violence by 51%, perpetration of violence by 52%, incarceration by 53%, poor diet by 14%. The economic savings for society could be huge.

What can we do to stop ACEs: raise awareness amongst those in contact with children in a position to help. Help build resilience amongst children at risk. Join forces across education, criminal justice, social work, public health and all other relevant sectors Tackle poverty and inequality…There’s a long list of things we can do, which all begins with the belief that adverse childhood experiences are preventable and a healthier, happier and safer society is possible. Scotland is already making great strides in tackling ACEs with the Scottish Government’s recent justice plan including early intervention as a priority.

The Scottish Violence Reduction Unit are determined to do our bit in the battle to protect our children and our society from violence in all its forms. Where can I find out more: The information in this fact sheet is based on the Scottish Public Health Network 2016 report “Polishing the Diamonds” Addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences in Scotland, which can be found here

Other useful sites include:

Niven Rennie


Telephone: 01786 896785          Email:

Niven has more than 30 years of operational policing experience in the United Kingdom. He joined Strathclyde Police in 1985 serving throughout the west of Scotland in a variety of ranks and positions before progressing to the rank of Chief Superintendent. Niven previously held the role of President of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents where he represented the interests of the operational leaders of policing in Scotland.

On leaving Police Scotland in 2016 Niven took up the position of Chief Executive Officer of South Ayrshire Escape from Homelessness (SeAscape).

Niven was appointed director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit in July 2018.