How the police conceptualise and view the relevance of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) for policing: A qualitative investigation

Karen Goodall, Zara Brodie, Kirsty Deacon, Kimberley Collins, Karri Gillespie-Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Purpose: Knowledge about the prevalence and impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is pivotal to trauma-informed approaches, yet the impact of ACEs training is rarely investigated. This study reports a qualitative investigation of police perceptions of ACEs training in relation to conceptualisations of ACEs and trauma-informed working, practical applications of ACE knowledge and service-level support. 

Design/methodology/approach: Four focus groups were conducted with 29 police officers, who had participated in an ACEs-awareness training. Based on the qualitative data, themes were generated using reflexive thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2019). 

Findings: Analysis generated seven themes, conceptualised into three domains of conceptual understanding, police culture and operationalising ACEs. 

Research limitations/implications: The sample is limited to Scottish police officers and is ethnically non-diverse. Further evaluation of higher quality interventions is warranted. 

Practical implications: The study highlighted that a lack of conceptual framework, officer concerns and police culture may present barriers to officers incorporating ACEs knowledge into their day-to-day work. Future trainings should address these issues to achieve maximum benefits. 

Originality/value: To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first in-depth qualitative study of police officers' perceptions of ACEs training. Focus groups facilitated the expression of cultural norms. The results provide insight into tailoring trauma-informed interventions in police in future, as well as raising broader service-level issues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)878-892
Number of pages15
JournalPolicing: An International Journal
Issue number5-6
Early online date18 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • childhood emotional abuse
  • mental health
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • psychometric properties
  • factor analysis
  • ACEs
  • trauma
  • trauma-informed
  • police culture


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