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How I Have Come to Grips with Adverse Childhood Experiences

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For over 20 years, I have worked with vulnerable and challenging children in a variety of settings – from volunteer befriending, to youth work, working with young people experiencing drug/alcohol difficulties either personally or through their family, managing a mentoring project within social services to education in a care setting, teaching in an ASN (additional support needs) school and in my current post as Nurture Teacher.

Throughout that time, I have undertaken a variety of training and, as my friends, family and colleagues know well, a lot of reading around resilience, trauma and as much psychology as I can understand.

However, it is only in the past two years that I have become aware of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and the studies undertaken in the US. This has added to my understanding, particularly, when thinking back to the children and young people I have encountered.

Nonetheless, I struggle with the concept: the medical focus and the narrow focus of the ten experiences. I fully understand that the awareness raising and the understanding of the wider public and more specifically, teachers, police and health professionals is absolutely essential for working with the vulnerable in our society. 

One of the first children I ever worked with was a young boy of six. He had younger brothers and a sister. His mum was a lovely woman but was limited by her experiences of domestic violence and control from her husband. Throughout the next ten years, I encountered this young person in each of my different jobs.

Unfortunately, he was taken into care and became involved in offending behaviours, school truancy, absconding and was eventually placed in a residential school. I, and many others, had really good relationships with this young person, however, his childhood experiences and traumatic upbringing meant that these relationships struggled to negate his developmental trauma.

I was unaware at this point of the impact this trauma could and might affect his physical health. With the ACE-aware movement in Scotland, I am now fully aware of the bleak outlook for his physical health as he ages. 

Recently, I met this young boy again, now 27 as he took great delight in telling me as I did not recognise him, now happily settled down with his own child. Hopefully, the supportive adults and relationships he encountered in his childhood will go some way to ensure his child has a positive beginning to his life.

Since my volunteer days, I have learned so much more about the impact adverse childhood experiences, developmental trauma and childhood stress (from preconception and beyond) can have on the brain development. Please see Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, Dr Dan Seigel, Dr Dan Hughes, Dr Karen Triesman, Beacon House, Childmind Institute, The Merhit Centre and a whole variety of organisations on Twitter and Facebook. The Scottish Attachment in Action websiteis amazing too.  Nurtureuk has some amazing resources and training, particularly for those encountering children with developmental trauma and adverse childhood experiences in an education setting. 

I can see distressed behaviours within many children in my setting. I am not qualified to count ACEs or to delve into traumatic memories or to provide therapy. This is my fear of the momentum of ACEs awareness, that unqualified or inexperienced people can cause children and young people more trauma and more adversity by quizzing and scoring ACEs. 

I feel that my role is not to dwell on their adversities but to work alongside the child and develop coping strategies and self-regulation. In essence, to enable them to achieve their potential and become who they can be.


Image credit: Freepik

Pauline Hendry and  is a Nurture Teacher in Scotland. She is also an admin for the Scottish ASN and Nurture Teachers Twitter feed and Facebook page. 

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