Adverse Childhood Experiences, Protective Factors and School Readiness

This research, funded by the New Zealand’s Ministry of Social Development’s Children and Families Research Fund, looked at the prevalence, school readiness outcomes and protective factors around adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in New Zealand children. The researchers identified protective factors that may allow some children to experience no ACEs, despite being at heightened risk of experiencing multiple ACEs.  They also found that a child’s performance in cognitive tests at four-and-a-half years of age declined in direct correlation with the number of ACEs they had experienced.


Walsh, M. C., Joyce, S., Maloney, T., & Vaithianathan, R. (2019). Exploring the Protective Factors of Children and Families Identified at Highest Risk of Adverse Childhood Experiences by a Predictive Risk Model: An Analysis of the Growing up in New Zealand Cohort. Children and Youth Services Review, 104556.

The authors explore what protective factors might exist for the families of children identified by a predictive risk model as at high risk of experiencing adverse childhood experiences. Identifying protective factors is an important step in designing preventive services for families as well as helping social workers take a strengths-based approach to these families.  The authors identify 56 factors associated with protective effects against adversities and find that a positive mother-partner relationship helps children at risk of adversities.

Walsh, M.  C., Maloney, T., Vaithianathan,  R., &  Joyce, S.  (2019). Adverse  childhood experiences and school readiness outcomes Results from the Growing up in New Zealand study, Wellington: Ministry of Social Development.

This report describes using Growing Up in New Zealand (GUiNZ) survey instruments to create a measurement of adverse child experiences (ACEs) and correlates this measurement with school readiness outcomes. Statistically significant associations were found between a child’s experience of ACEs and their performance in cognitive tests administered at 54 months. This study was authored by Matthew Walsh (CSDA Senior Research Fellow 2017-2019), Sophie Joyce, Tim Maloney (CSDA Co-Director 2016-2019) and Rhema Vaithianathan and funded by the Children and Families Research Fund (Ministry of Social Development, NZ).

Walsh,  M.  C., Maloney,  T.,  Vaithianathan,  R., &  Joyce,  S. (2019).  Protective  factors of  children  and families at highest risk of adverse childhood experiences:  An analysis of children and families in the Growing up in New Zealand data who “beat the odds” Wellington: Ministry of Social Development.

With increasing access to integrated administrative data, it is easy to identify infants who are likely to suffer childhood adversities. However, many infants who appear “at risk” end up thriving - experiencing few of the adversities that beset other children with similar risk factors. Understanding what helps children “beat the odds” is important for policymakers and frontline services that want to help families at risk. This report authored by Matthew Walsh, Tim Maloney (CSDA co-director 2016-2019), Rhema Vaithianathan and Sophie Joyce analyses the Growing Up in New Zealand (GUiNZ) birth cohort to identify protective factors for at-risk children who “beat the odds”.

Walsh, M. C., Joyce, S., Maloney, T., & Vaithianathan, R.  (2019). Adverse childhood experiences and school readiness outcomes:  results from the Growing Up in New Zealand study. The New Zealand medical journal, 132(1493), 15‐24

The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have been associated with adverse health consequences in adults and children, but less is known about any association between ACEs and early learning skills. Researchers Matthew Walsh, Sophie Joyce, Tim Maloney and Rhema Vaithianathan investigated the relationship between ACEs and objective preschool measures of skills using the Growing up in New Zealand (GUiNZ) cohort study.

Related news

Quick facts

Location: New Zealand

Partners: Children and Families Research Fund, New Zealand Ministry of Social Development

Timeframe: 2018-2019