THE World Health Organisation has identified Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as a significant public health issue and estimated that 250 million children worldwide do not reach their potential as a result of early childhood adversity.
Enhancing frontline practitioners’ awareness of ACEs, and their understanding of how supportive relationships help to buffer the negative impact of adversity and toxic stress, is vital.
Research shows that ACE awareness is a first step, leading to a more compassionate and empathic approach where a frontline practitioner, such as an early years professional, a GP, a healthcare worker, a social worker or a teacher, might wonder what has happened to someone, rather than what is wrong with them.
This element of compassionate curiosity can be powerful and transformative, particularly in a school or an early years setting where a child’s behaviour may be better understood if viewed through an ACE lens.
As part of our advocacy work at Ag Eisteacht, we are collaborating with Let’s Grow Together Infant & Childhood Partnerships CLG (formerly known as Young Knocknaheeny Area Based Programme) to raise awareness of ACEs and support further understanding of the role positive relationships play in buffering the impact of adversity in childhood.
We have facilitated five free screenings to date with Let’s Grow Together of the award-winning documentary about ACEs: Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope, reaching an audience of 135 practitioners in the Knocknaheeny catchment area.
One of the key messages in the documentary is one of hope: quality relationships make a difference to those who have experienced adversity in childhood, acting as buffer and a protective factor in their lives to mitigate the negative impact of ACEs.
That is a particularly powerful and hopeful message for frontline practitioners, and especially for those working with vulnerable children and families.
With the focus on early intervention, our collaboration with Let’s Grow Together means that the documentary’s vital message of hope reaches early years professionals, teachers and other practitioners who play a vital role in supporting the holistic development of children.
With so many vulnerable children missing out on important connections and relationships at school during lockdown, there has never been a better time to support teachers and early years practitioners’ awareness of this.
The early years sector has proven to be adaptable during this pandemic, keeping their doors open throughout lockdown for our vulnerable children, or connecting remotely to nurture those relationships with families via WhatsApp, phone calls and Zoom meetings and other virtual platforms — as many teachers have as well.
It is wonderful to see the interest to date from frontline practitioners in the Knocknaheeey catchment area in building their understanding of how relating with compassion and empathy will make a difference to children and adults who have experienced adversity.
Our screenings with Let’s Grow Together have included a screening for an audience of doctors, nurses, midwives, speech & language therapists, occupational therapists, social workers and community family support teams, drawn from St. Mary’s Primary Care Centre in Gurranabraher, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH).
Our next three screenings over the coming months will be for early years practitioners, school communities and allied professionals in the Knocknaheeney catchment area.
A unique aspect of the screenings is that we facilitate on-line break-out rooms to provide an opportunity for people to reflect on the impact of the documentary on themselves and then discuss how the information and messages can support them in relating in their work.
Katherine Harford, manager of Let’s Grow Together, said: “Ag Eisteacht is generously partnering with us again to share this powerful resource. The screenings work very well, particularly the small group reflective spaces. Maeve and I facilitate these and there is a good balance, with Maeve, as a former GP, bringing her clinical background and training & development experience, while I come from the perspective of delivering services on the ground at a community level.
“Every day, health and social care practitioners see people who are under pressure — and they are under pressure themselves — so to have time and space to reflect on how they are feeling is a gift.
“What is lovely about Ag Eisteacht’s screenings is that there is no agenda. This isn’t about skills development but simply, awareness. We are left with feelings and thoughts about how we might do things differently and what changes we might make.
“It’s like opening a window or placing a lens that might align our approach or thinking differently so that we can be more empathic to ourselves and others. The more rounded understanding we have of ourselves and our thoughts and feelings, the more we are able to tune into others.
“Our work at Let’s Grow Together is all about relationships in the context of children’s lives, and their social and emotional development.
Frontline practitioners play such an important role in that the quality of the relationships they nurture supports a child’s social and emotional development. This is why ACE awareness and having a well-informed and skilled early years’ workforce is essential.”
We all have the potential to make a difference in someone’s life through the relationships we build, and how we listen to and relate with others, but particularly to the lives of those who have experienced adversity in childhood.