Joining the dots of Child Protection

Partner guest post: Evolve

Brian Padden - Senior Health Mentor & Chair of Safeguarding at Evolve.


The current system in schools for child protection is designed to carry out four specific tasks; recognise signs of child protection issues, report, provide support and if necessary seek prosecutions.  Within those parameters it functions well. The painful lessons of Lord Lamming’s report into Victoria Climbie’s death have been learnt and implemented.

 Although the Keeping Children Safe in Education Statuary Guidance does exactly that, there is no provision within it to limit the impact of the four strands of abuse beyond education when the school gates close for the final time. Nor does it offer protection from other Adverse Childhood Experiences by dysfunction families.

In the late 1990’s Dr Vincent Felitti released his shocking report into Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Dr Felitti was working in an obesity clinic in San Diego, California when he discovered, by chance, a link between childhood sexual abuse and adult obesity. Further studies revealed a correlation between nine other traumatic events in childhood that lead to severe adult and lifelong problems.

 His initial ten ACEs were:

  • ·       Sexual abuse
  • ·       Verbal abuse
  • ·       Physical abuse
  • ·       Physical and emotional neglect
  • ·       Alcohol abuse in the family
  • ·       Drug abuse in the family
  • ·       Domestic Violence
  • ·       Parent in prison
  • ·       Parent with mental health problems
  • ·       Separation from parent (divorce or death)

For every occurrence of one of the above scores one on the ACE score (so any three of the above would be an ACE score of 3). His initial report, and many reports from around the world since has shown that the greater the ACE score the higher the risk of poor physical health including cancer, heart attack, stroke, liver failure, diabetes. This partly due to developing ‘ health harming behaviours’, such as smoking, heavy drinking and drug abuse, and in part due to stress caused by ACEs resulting in poor health. It also has an impact on mental health with anxiety, depression, emotional wellbeing, self-harm and suicide attempts and early death all linked to ACEs.

The most shocking statistic is in suicide attempts; the increase in suicide attempts were studied by Shana Dube, she found that suicide attempts rise from 1% with zero ACE score to 31.1% in 7+ ACE scores, and every additional ACE increases the probability of an attempted suicide by 60%.

ACEs also have a detrimental effect on educational attainment, which in turn impacts on employability and lifelong financial security.  Anti-social and criminal behaviour is connected to ACEs and with that pressure on the justice system with increased imprisonment.

So, if the events that happen in childhood have a lifelong impact on, not only the child, but social service, NHS, the justice  system, the benefit system, social housing etc. – is it time to look at the concept of ‘child protection’ as ‘person protection’? And if so, what can be done?

Over the last twenty years there has been a wealth of knowledge gathered about ACES, the initial questions concerning what they are and what are their impacts have been answered. Why do they cause such physical and mental problems has been established by several studies including ground-breaking research into toxic stress Dr Nadine Burke. Her research also demonstrates how behaviours caused by stress can be wrongfully diagnosed as ADHD . The most recent report on ACEs show education levels can suffer as a result of brain architecture being under-developed, resulting in poor memory and cognitive function

Now for the first time we are seeing scientific evidence that child protection issues, school behaviour and educational attainment levels are all linked. So the next big question is what can to be done to reduce the impact of ACEs? That brings us to the latest work by Professor Mark Bellis who has carried out ACE studies in the UK. His latest studies looked at why some people with a high ACE score suffered from fewer lifelong problems than others with the same ACEs and scores. He concludes that the damaging effects of ACEs can be dramatically reduced by having an ‘Always Available Adult’ (AAA) he suggests that 'such impacts may be substantially mitigated away by always having support from an adult you trust in childhood.'

Evolve is a multi-award winning social impact company that deploys Health Mentors to be a positive role model in schools. These mentors are the trusted ‘Always Available Adult’ for many, many children with traumatic home lives, they support them with mentoring 1-1, and in group mentoring sessions to help alleviate the future lifelong problems brought on by ACEs. In 2015 an Independent report by Leeds Beckett University hailed the impact Health Mentors has quoting  “Many of the teaching staff reported that not only were EVOLVE staff effective managers of these disruptive behaviours in the classroom, but also in many instances, they were able to improve their behaviour and educational progress.”  Exactly the impact Professor Bellis reported on over two years later.

June is Child Protection Month, and it’s time to expand the boundaries. The mantra 'every child matters' should become 'every year matters' because traumas in childhood do not suddenly stop being traumatic on an 18th birthday. Many lives have been ruined, and still are being ruined by not understanding ACEs and how to combat them. All child protection policies of the future need to look at every aspect of damage suffered by our children and put measures in place to improve all areas and whole of life. It’s time to join the dots between child protection, school behaviour, cognitive impairment, educational attainment and ACES. We need to break the cycle of ACEs and give adequate training to school staff, parents and all others involved in the lives of children.

Brian Padden

Senior Health Mentor & Chair of Safeguarding at Evolve.



Twitter  @brianpadden

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