Orkney Responds to Adverse Childhood Experiences Film

“With will and with method we can transform Scotland” Prof Harry Burns

Professionals and volunteers who work with children and young people in Orkney along with other interested individuals in the community gathered in the Pickaquoy cinema on Saturday to watch the film Resilience. This is an excellent documentary looking at how several states in the U.S.A. have begun to understand the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on the lives of children, young people and adults – in fact families and communities.

Many of those watching already intuitively know about the impact of ACEs on children and young people but the documentary was able to demonstrate the scientific findings behind it. For some people in the hall, including those involved in policy making, it came as ‘news’.

Commenting on the proposal to introduce Baby Boxes back in May 2016 in the Holyrood magazine John Carnochan OBE QPM said:

“Imagine if in Scotland we could reduce our inequalities in health and wellbeing, what would that Scotland look like?”

“It would be a country where fewer people smoked, fewer people used heroin, there would be less binge drinking, less violence and there would be fewer people in our prisons. All good.”

“This also means that there would be less demand on public services, and the Christie Commission report in 2011 spoke of the need for public service organisations to prioritise preventative measures to reduce demand and lessen inequalities, so that’s good too.”

The article goes on to say:

“ACEs include being the victim of physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, parental separation, emotional neglect and emotional abuse or living with an alcoholic or drug abuser or having a parent in prison.

A child who is the victim of any of these ACEs will be significantly disadvantaged throughout their life.

A recent ACE study in Wales concluded that a child experiencing four or more ACEs compared to a child experiencing none was:

  • 2 x more likely to binge drink
  • 3 x more likely to be a current smoker
  • 5 x more likely to have sex under 16 years
  • 7 x times more likely to be involved in recent violence
  • 11 x times more likely to have used heroin or crack cocaine
  • 11 x more likely to have been incarcerated 

We must consider all our public policy within the context of prevention and develop our strategic planning through the lens of adverse childhood experiences and if we do this, we won’t have to imagine a Scotland that is less unequal, it will be a reality.”

The Baby Boxes funded by the Scottish Government and successfully piloted in Orkney is one part of a response to the issue of ACEs.

A few months after  John Carnochan’s article was published the NHS in Scotland held a conference Polishing our Gems: A call for Action on Childhood Adversity . You can read the draft report of the conference here.

“The ‘Polishing our Gems’ conference was an opportunity to consider ACEs and how a public health approach to preventing and responding to childhood adversity can make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up.”

200 delegates took part in the conference. The result was the setting up of the ACEs Scotland Hub. It is funded by the Scottish Government and will pull together research. The conference also saw the setting up of a Research Group ” to consider potential new areas of research in the field of ACEs in Scotland, recognising that there is much going on in Scotland, other parts of the UK and internationally.”

The results from the conference and the work of the ACEs Scotland Hub would be a good place to start for those working in this field in Orkney, especially some of the local politicians attending the film.

Professor Sir Harry Burns of the University of Strathclyde has done extensive work in this field. He is Director of Global Public Health and is based in the International Public Policy Institute. He is also Chair of the Centre for Health Policy. In addition to this he is Chair of the Scottish Government’s Review into Targets for Health and Social Care, and was Chief Medical Officer for Scotland until 2014.

“Sir Harry uses evidence to support his argument that adversity in early years can have considerable, biological consequences in later life.”

You can watch a very interesting YouTube video by Professor Sir Harry Burns  ‘What Causes Wellness’ . (2014)

It is rather sad that it took an American film Resilience to be shown in Orkney about Adverse Childhood Experiences to get people to come together on this issue when there has been work done on this ( and funded by the Scottish Government) in Scotland. Even within that room at Pickaquoy there was a wealth of untapped experience and professional skills of those working  in Orkney with children, young people and families.

Some in the audience talked of a need for increased resources and indeed this is always needed. Funding for staff development is essential but funding also to support young people’s groups, families and community initiatives. But more importantly there is a change in attitude required and that involves no money at all. Not separating children and young people out  but working with communities, working locally with families and having a willingness to think differently.

What we need in this world is a compassion that stands in awe at the burdens the poor have to carry rather than stands in judgement at the way they carry them” Father Greg

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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7 replies »

  1. Children learn from what they see. They learn to either copy it – or avoid it.
    I’m not an ‘expert’, but I am an observer, and a listener.
    Ask any Cousellor ( not bins and drains – the other kind), and they’ll tell you the same. It doesn’t take a lot of research – just – listening and observing and trying to help people to help themselves to change the pattern.
    Why am I so confident ( some might say opinionated), prepared to express my views, and generally full of it? Largely due to having a loving Mum and Dad, and siblings who didn’t let me, or each other, get away with any pretence or …bull. That sets you up for confidence in school, so you don’t get bullied, and so it goes on, establishing different patterns, and carrying them through your life, your family and the people you encounter in life.
    You don’t take shit, but you don’t give it either.

    Resources are probably needed to tackle this – I’d go for a more direct approach of asking folk to look at themselves, their lives, how they behave with and in front of their children and their children’s friends, and bear in mind that children do, simply learn from what they see and hear. It’s how we all learn – everything – in the early years.
    Then, behave accordingly.
    In fact, it comes down to the idea of ‘Do as you would be done by’ again. Would you like to have had you as a Mum or Dad? Or teacher?

    Having said that – I think I would have been a scary, rather over-whelming mum, but I would have loved, very much, and all you need is love – real love – when it comes down to it – love and not being self-centred.

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