Tracey Jenkins, Everyone’s Children Administrative Officer 

The Cross-Party Group for the Prevention and Healing of ACE’s had a productive meeting at the Scottish Parliament on the 27th of March. Gail Ross MSP chaired the group and a number of guest speakers presented some inspiring information regarding mental health and the work being done to support children who have experienced adversity.

The first speaker was Thanos Karatzias, Professor of Mental Health at Edinburgh Napier University and Clinical + Health Psychologist at the Rivers Centre for Traumatic Stress. He presented us with his ACE’s Population based study (found here) focusing on Complex-PTSD, which has now been identified as a new condition separate from PTSD. This is an exciting new find as it is predominantly associated with ACE’s and is more prevalent in the UK than PTSD. He has established that 29.8% of all disorders are a result of childhood adversities and can now be diagnosable conditions, leading to treatment of traumatic stress from childhood abuse.

The research states that existing interventions are helpful up to a point but are not that effective, more work needs to be done. He emphasised the importance of a person centred approach with survivors saying they would like to be treated with dignity, compassion and respect, a ‘what happened’ not ‘what’s wrong’ opening in communication. Thanos suggested the Modular Approach to Therapy for Children with Anxiety, Depression, Trauma or Conduct Problems (MATCH-ADCT) would be productive, given studies have proven fruitful.

Susan McKeller from Parent Network Scotland provided some feedback from parents who have taken part in their Preventative and Restorative approach to ACE’s course. Some issues they dealt with were managing toxic stress, attachment, managing emotions and parental resilience, with lessons learned in valuing themselves and passing this on to their children. She said peer support worked better than CBT and changing the culture of blame was of great importance.

Sally Amor, Child Health Commissioner for NHS Highland, and leading contributor to The Annual Report of the Director of Public Health found here, presented an overview for us. She said understanding what doesn’t work is just as important as what does in responding to adversity as humans (this is used in preference to the term ACE’s). Children develop a sense of self from carers and when adult needs take over it is harmful, and this can happen in any family. The Highland population statistics show a large problem with drug related deaths and a real struggle with neurodevelopmental disorders, linked to experiences of adversity. Sally suggests a trauma informed approach by public sector services, a strong judicial framework and action to address poverty. Her closing statement was ‘relationships can build us up, but they can also destroy us’.

Helen Minnis, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry from the University of Glasgow believes children who experience trauma are the least likely to be seen in certain areas, as they will not communicate their issues. She said if you think there is a problem, there probably is, even in the best functioning families. Help can be constructive for children with neurodevelopmental disorders, they can go on to achieve great things and be high functioning adults in our society. Also, children with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) are treatable if spotted and tackled with gentle care. The most effective treatment, she suggests is family care with a holistic approach, even if it proves difficult.

The meeting was then open to discussion and we heard from Ryan McShane MSYP for Who Cares? Scotland. Having lived in care and experienced severe adversity his point of view was much appreciated. Reading from an essay he wrote for Higher English he said ‘what you see here is not me’ and although he is in the process of healing it is still a work in progress, as people tend to keep in a lot more than they admit. He advocates for family support and says preventing ACE’s is vital if change is to be achieved for children in our society. Ryan’s Young People’s Rights Review can be found here if you would like to read more from his campaign to make love a right for people in care.

A dynamic conversation ensued about preventive action for ACE’s and ideas for solutions. A letter from John Swinney MSP, Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary, in response to Gail Ross’s email from the last Cross Party meeting, stated there would be continuing support from the government in Education to embed nurture and trauma-informed approaches. The actions from this meeting will be a letter to the Minister for Mental Health, Clare Haughey to ask how the 52m budget will be split between perinatal and infant mental health support. A request for the same level of support to mental health that physical health is given will also form part of the correspondence. The second action will be to enquire about progress on the Children and Mental Health Task Force Report, found here. Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People will be invited to attend the next meeting, scheduled for the 29th May, as her input will be invaluable.

The evening proved rich in discussion and there was a sense of satisfaction from the information shared.