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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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We must work closely with children who have suffered trauma

This opinion piece is over 5 years old

Martin Crewe says that organisations need to focus more on what has happened to children, rather than what they have done

Last week, Barnardo’s Scotland hosted a joint event with Kibble Education and Care Centre at the Scottish Parliament entitled What next after ACEs?

With a growing awareness of the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) across Scotland and the Ace-Aware Nation conference happening today - 26 September - both organisations thought it was timely to explore areas of good practice where trauma-informed approaches are being used with children and young people as part of the response to addressing ACEs.

The original ACE study has played a huge part in providing the credible research behind what many already knew about the impact of early trauma and adversity on future life chances. As many speakers highlighted, it has also allowed for a useful and common language to talk about these issues with other professionals and the public, who may not have encountered these ideas before. We see the impact of trauma and adversity in our services every day and for our workers, taking a trauma-informed approach to working with children and families is essential.

Martin Crewe
Martin Crewe

For us this means putting children and families and their experiences at the heart of all of our work. It means taking time to build strong, trusting relationships and utilising the strengths and assets of families to overcome the difficulties they are facing. It means working with compassion, curiosity and understanding and always thinking about what lies behind the presenting behaviour or circumstance, it’s not ‘what’s wrong with you’ it’s ‘what’s happened to you’, and crucially what can we do to help mitigate the negative impact.

Dan Johnson, from our partner organisation Kibble said during his presentation: ‘empathy makes the world go round’, Angela and Martin, practitioners from Barnardo’s Scotland said of their input about schools: ‘it’s who and how, rather than what’ and Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People, in her opening statement said: ‘change comes from relationships’. All these statements cut to the heart of what trauma-informed approaches with children and families are all about, ‘relationships’.

The ACEs research tells a story of hope; it tells us that having a strong, caring, nurturing adult relationship can buffer against the impact of early trauma and help repair the damage for our children. This means that embedding truly authentic, trauma-informed practice with our children and their families should form a key part of a preventative approach to tackling childhood adversity.

Dr Lucie MacKinlay talked about her work with looked after children and how she is providing psychological support to them in a flexible way which addresses the traumatic experiences which will have led them into the care system. Dr Sandra Ferguson of NHS Education Scotland, who chaired the event, highlighted the importance of their work to embed trauma-informed practice across the Scottish workforce. I would like to thank all the speakers for their valuable inputs and Barnardo’s Scotland looks forward to continuing to drive forwards this agenda alongside Kibble and other partners.

Martin Crewe is director of Barnardo's Scotland