‘Why are we waiting for them to fall apart?’ – working towards a trauma-informed West Yorkshire and world
Reflections on a well-attended multi-agency event to consider ‘What would a Trauma-Informed Community look like?’
Despite the brilliant blue of the Autumn sky and the vibrant atmosphere of the bustling college campus outside, I found myself genuinely excited to settle down for an afternoon in a darkened lecture theatre among over 130 colleagues in Bradford one Tuesday during early October.
Organised in part to mark Safeguarding Week – and falling coincidentally just two weeks after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published a report revealing that people abused in childhood are more likely to be abused as adults – the time could not have been more apt for professionals across a range of sectors to come together to consider what a trauma-informed society could look like.
Introduced by Yasmin Khan, CEO of specialist domestic abuse charity Staying Put and co-founder of new initiative I-RAP: Giving Every Child a Voice, the event used the ground-breaking, breath-taking and award-winning short film RESILIENCE: The Biology of Stress & The Science of Hope to kick-start participants’ thinking and discussion. And that it most certainly did.
RESLIENCE Director James Redford (son of actor Robert, if you’re interested in that sort of thing), has said his intention in creating the film was ‘to make this science digestible and relevant to everyone, and to showcase some of the inspiring individuals who are putting that science into action’, and he’s undeniably achieved both.
The science he refers to of course is neuroscience, specifically around the impacts of childhood trauma and toxic stress on our brain development and wider health. When the first research into Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) was published nearly 20 years ago, its findings about the strong links with long-term health issues – ranging from depression and substance misuse to heart disease and cancer – were considered controversial.
But now the effects of ACEs are widely recognised and RESILIENCE shines a light on the movement of inspirational doctors, social workers, educators and communities committed to reducing and preventing their individual and societal impacts – a movement that is gathering momentum in the United States, and, as it turns out, on this side of the Atlantic too.
Dr Warren Larkin is the Clinical Lead for our own Department of Health’s ACEs programme, as well as a consultant clinical psychologist and visiting professor at Sunderland University.
While my fellow attendees and I continued to absorb the powerful hour-long film, he led us through a presentation of key research findings – from Bellis et al and the World Health Organisation (WHO) among others – about the prevalence and impact of ACEs, and told us what’s happening closer to home to address them.
Among the striking studies he highlighted was one carried out by Kessler et al on behalf of the WHO in 2010, involving 52,000 participants, which found a staggering correlation between the incidence of a whole range of mental health problems and the number of ACEs a person had encountered.