What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?

These can be experiences that directly harm a child (such as physical, verbal or sexual abuse, and emotional neglect) to those that affect the environment in which a child grows up (including parental separation, domestic violence, mental illness, alcohol abuse, or drug use). These experiences can have a negative impact on that child’s life experiences and health when they become an adult.

The term ACE came from a study that was conducted in Southern California from 1995 to 1997. Around 17,000 university educated people completed surveys about their childhood experiences, current health status and behaviours, and received physical examinations.

The findings of this research resulted in the development of the ‘ACE Pyramid’, which represents the link between childhood experiences, adult health and wellbeing outcomes:

ACEs

Comparative studies were then conducted in the UK in 2012 & 2013 and found that there were similar links as in the U.S. to ACEs being strongly associated with negative behavioural, health and social outcomes for the people studied.

The 2013 study also found that almost half of the general population reported experiencing at least one ACE, with 8% identifying at least four (Bellis et al, 2014bc).

It is important to recognise, however, that there is a distinction between ‘normal’ stressful life events, such as parental divorce or illness of a loved one, and adverse childhood experiences which are very traumatic life events, such as being or seeing someone else physically or sexually abused. It is the latter experiences that will often be associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

When exposed to stressful situations, the “fight, flight or freeze” response results in our brain producing hormones as part of a normal and protective response to danger. These hormones will usually subside once the stressful situation passes. However, when repeatedly exposed to ACEs, the hormone is continually produced, which results in the child remaining permanently in this heightened state of anxiety and unable to return to their natural relaxed and recovered state.

Children and young people who are exposed to ACEs, therefore, have increased and sustained levels of stress. They are unable to think rationally and it is physiologically impossible for them to learn or develop in the same way a child not having these experiences will; the more ACEs a child experiences the greater the chance of health and/or social problems in adulthood.

If a child discloses that they have experienced a traumatic experience there are things we can do to try and minimise the impact of those experiences. This includes:

  • Listening to the child’s experiences & think about how those experiences will have an impact on their healthy development and on their behaviours.
  • Recognise the signs, and don’t just think that the child is just misbehaving.
  • Try to help them become more grounded, give them choices and allow them to feel more in control.
  • Understand that it is likely this will have an impact on any attachment for that child and there will be mistrust. We need to try and build a relationship with the child that is different to ones they have experienced previously, or are currently experiencing.
  • It is important to remember that ACEs tend to be passed from generation to generation if parents do not receive support to reflect upon childhood stressors, and to explore how these may feed into current problematic behaviours and ongoing health issues, this, in turn, will impact on their ability to parent well.

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About our Community Expert

 

PROFILE-PICS_team_JuneKAREN-FOSTERKaren Foster

Community Expert
As an experienced practitioner Child Protection, Safeguarding and Behaviour are key areas for much of Karen’s expertise and experience. She has been working with children, young people and adults for over 15 years in a multitude of settings which include dance and performing arts companies, local authorities, youth clubs, education and the welfare to work sector.

Karen’s main expertise is in safeguarding and behaviour management and modification strategies, with her most recent role being a national Safeguarding Lead. Karen has also been a school governor for nine years, two of which have been as Vice-Chair.

Karen has also run a behaviour unit (inclusive PRU) within an Academy and worked with the most disaffected students whose behaviour was disruptive who weren’t accessing the curriculum within the mainstream setting. She has and also worked with disaffected young people within a youth club, most of whom were at risk of permanent exclusion and carried out safeguarding audits whilst working for a multi-academy trust.

Dear DSL, who heals the healers?

Reflexive in that one doesn’t just focus on how you impact a pupils’, young persons, service users or prisoners life but how the interaction affects you professionally and personally. Which leads me to the question of ‘who heals the healers’?

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Over the last year, I have had the fortunate opportunity to train, consult and build strong partnerships with individuals and teams across the country who have a remit around safeguarding.

That being said, one thing that was apparent is that hardly any of them access clinical supervision despite their roles consisting of complex and difficult decisions around young peoples welfare. Such instances involved cse, grooming, youth violence or in some cases suicide.

With that in mind, how do we ensure that those of us working with vulnerable young people safeguard ourselves from compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and in some case the Stockholm syndrome?

In short, the answer is we have to take the lead. This is especially true since the conversation around being trauma-informed is slowly gathering momentum. However, in the short term, we have to find outlets and ways that lead us to a place of self-care.

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A practitioner shared with me recently that she had to have a child removed from a household and although it was the right thing to do and involved other siblings, she ended up crying in her car for an hour afterwards. As it happens, this practitioner at the time was 6 months pregnant and felt she wasn’t getting the appropriate support.

Whilst it is true that we are all wired differently and our individual self-care methods are different, safeguarding our young people is becoming more complex to deal with.

It is almost certain that all of us supporting young adults with today’s problems need support from one another so please check in with another rather than assuming that going home, having dinner and watching Netflix will heal us of the burdens we face.

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About our Community Expert

Raymond Douglas
Community Expert

Raymond Douglas is one of the UK’s leading thinkers and “doers” around working with at-risk pupils and young people. A prolific trainer and curriculum developer he has created numerous intervention programs tackling youth conflict & violence aiming to reduce the number of those at risk of life-threatening behaviour involving guns, gangs, knife crime & extremism.

Ray has been an approved trainer for governmental departments and currently delivers within schools colleges, universities and prisons. Ray has spoken at TEDx and has worked nationally and internationally training & advising schools and local authorities around reducing systemic youth violence.

Today his Minus Violence program reaches over 10,000 young people & pupils per year and 2019 see the release of his first book Gangs Kitchen.

Young people on a knife edge

My blog this week wasn’t going to be around knives and all week I have sat deliberating whether to continue the debate around the tragic events that we’ve all seen and read in the media over the last 10 days.

Whether it’s the three young men within 2 miles in Birmingham or the two teenagers from Manchester and East London once again the debate around who’s to blame and who has the solution continues to rage but one thing for sure is we cannot continue to address this issue the same way.

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Click here to download the Opogo app on the App store and read this blog in full!

Alternatively, click here to download the Opogo app for android.

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About our Community Expert

Raymond Douglas
Community Expert

Raymond Douglas is one of the UK’s leading thinkers and “doers” around working with at-risk pupils and young people. A prolific trainer and curriculum developer he has created numerous intervention programs tackling youth conflict & violence aiming to reduce the number of those at risk of life-threatening behaviour involving guns, gangs, knife crime & extremism.

Ray has been an approved trainer for governmental departments and currently delivers within schools colleges, universities and prisons. Ray has spoken at TEDx and has worked nationally and internationally training & advising schools and local authorities around reducing systemic youth violence.

Today his Minus Violence program reaches over 10,000 young people & pupils per year and 2019 see the release of his first book Gangs Kitchen.

The Blame Games and Student Behaviour

“We can curse the darkness or shine a light”

A Headteacher once said to me she knew when a new video game had been released because there was a spike in absences and lateness the day after!

Interesting thought really especially as both teachers and parents alike currently glaze over when they hear the word fortnight; to the extent that one primary school recently banned any mention of it in the classroom.

games

Click here to download the Opogo app on the App store and read this blog in full!

Alternatively, click here to download the Opogo app for android.

Murder media: Tackling violence promoted through music

Is Trap, Drill and Grime the new pop music? But more importantly who exactly is listening to it?

2019 sees the first trap song entering the UK charts entitled Air force.

You’d be forgiven to think it celebrates that classic trainer Nike Air Force one however when you delve deeper into the lyrics you see content that is indicative of the current climate around systemic youth violence:

I was on the roads tryna double up
Home, now I wanna see my P’s just triple
Had to run a boy down in my Air Force, p***ed
Cos now they got a crease in the middle

The wider debate around the effects of violent music, films and video games is something we can save for a future blog however I can safely say after delivering in over 20 children secure units and prisons I’ve never heard Adele blaring out of cell!

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Click here to download the Opogo app for iPhones and read this blog in full!

Alternatively click here to download the Opogo app for android.

How to deal with cases of child protection

When children are supported and monitored by Children’s’ Social Services, this can be for a myriad of reasons, ranging from abuse, exposure to domestic violence, criminal exploitation, child sexual exploitation and much more. The most common reason we tend to see is neglect.

Neglect itself comes in many different forms but it can have profound effects on the children in the family.

To be clear – the vast majority of parents love their children. But in some cases, parents are unable to keep their children safe or provide for them so they thrive and are safeguarded by those who are supposed to be in charge.

When we talk about neglect, this can be physical or emotional. In order to thrive, children don’t just need to be fed and clothed, educated and protected from harm. They also need to feel loved, be cared for, spoken to, nurtured and emotionally developed.

Some parents are unable to keep their children from harm as they may have mental health problems, are preoccupied by domestic violence, afflicted by substance abuse, have physical disabilities that prevent them from caring for their children adequately or simply do not have the understanding or parental skills it takes to raise children, keep them safe and nurture them.

Many children we see in alternative provision and pupil referral units are beyond parental control, a process which started from when the children were very young.

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When parents find themselves unable to parent their children effectively, they can display highly risky behaviours by the time they become teenagers.

Trying to get a 15-year-old to confirm when they have been left to their own devices for most of their childhood is a pretty difficult thing to do. All agencies involved can do is to minimise risk and educate the parent and the child as much as possible to prevent them from further harm.

Some of the most common issues we see when it comes to physical neglect are things like children not having access to food in the home and having to rely on school feeding them.

We also frequently buy students new clothing, from shoes to winter coats, if parents are non-responsive when we raise concerns about inadequate clothing or are claiming that their child is refusing to come to school because their shoes are broken.

Many of our students also live in unacceptable housing conditions, such as severe overcrowding, no bedding or sheets or furniture, which means many prefer t spend their time outside with friends or people who don’t have their best interested at heart.

We also often come across parents who don’t take their child to see the GP, the dentist or the optometrist. Parents also sometimes don’t take their child to A&E if they had an injury or an accident. All our key workers have taken some of their key students to various medical appointments at one point or another.

primary boy holding hand

Sometimes parents fail to report their children missing or don’t show any interest in where their child has been whilst they were away.

We also see parents who know that their children are abusing drugs or alcohol but are unable to put strategies in place to manage their behaviours, which often escalate very quickly.

We often also see emotional neglect in families, which has the same causes as physical neglect but can be willful and cruel.

The most common ways parents are emotionally neglectful towards their children is when they show their children no warmth, love or care. The child is ignored, excluded, side-lined from conversations or any parental interaction and the child is made to feel unloved, a perpetual burden to the parent’s lifestyle or goals. Children who have experienced this kind of neglect either withdraw and become sad or – this is when they usually get excluded from their mainstream education, act out in protest to the neglect they’re experiencing.

Either way, addressing and remedying a family situation when it has come this far is incredibly difficult.

Behaviours are entrenched and hard to shift and all social workers and school can do are to try and manage escalating behaviours and keep children safe whilst allowing them to remain with their families.

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About our Community Expert

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Astrid Schön
Community Expert

With 15 years of experience in mainstream schools and over four years in alternative provision, Astrid has worked with the most able as well as the most disadvantaged students in London.

She is currently the Deputy Head at London East AP, the pupil referral unit in Tower Hamlets, one of the largest in the UK, leading on many teaching and learning initiatives to address underachievement of students in both mainstream and AP. Astrid also leads on curriculum development, assessment and strategic development of the pupil referral unit.