Introducing Routine Assessment of Adverse Childhood Experiences For Looked-After Children: The Use and Properties of the Trauma and Adverse Life Events (TALE) Screening Tool

Asa Kerr-Davis, Saul Hillman, Katharine Anderson, Richard Cross


The present study aims to illustrate the process of developing, implementing, and clinically validating a new assessment measure, the Trauma and Adverse Life Events (TALE) screening tool, to assess Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) among looked-after children. The TALE was developed by adapting existing ACEs measures to reflect the experiences of looked-after children. The TALE was completed by the local authority social worker for 218 children placed with Five Rivers Child Care (a UK fostering agency, residential, and educational care provider). Reliability was examined and exploratory factor analysis was conducted. Correlations between TALE scores, background variables, and psychosocial wellbeing using the carer-report Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and Child Dissociative Checklist (CDC) were also explored.

The TALE was found to have acceptable reliability (α = .71). A three-factor solution was found which explained 46.24% of the variance, with factors labelled ‘Direct Experience of Abuse’, ‘Witnessing Harm’, and ‘Household Dysfunction’. Exposure score was significantly associated with total difficulties score on the SDQ (rs = .24, p < .001) and Impact score was associated with the SDQ’s impact score (rs = .33, p < .001).

Exposure and Impact scores were both positively correlated with CDC scores (rs = .16, p = .021 and rs = .22, p = .002). This paper presents evidence of the importance of screening looked-after children for ACEs and demonstrates that the TALE is a valid and reliable tool for this purpose. Adverse and traumatic experiences were highly prevalent in this population and appeared to be closely related with children’s psychosocial wellbeing. Results emphasise the importance of routine assessment of past experiences within trauma-informed psychological care and intervention planning for looked-after children.