Parents matter because children matter

Written by: Jackie Tolland, Chief Executive, Parent Network Scotland

Published: 04/09/2018

At a recent Declaration event in Glasgow, the ALLIANCE screened the ACEs film 'Resilience' Jackie Tolland joined the panel.

ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. These indicators of ‘toxic stress’ range from maltreatment to poverty and from family violence to substance abuse. Many others have been added through time and through conversations with people.

In 28 August 2017, Parent Network Scotland, arranged a screening of Resilience (this link will take you away from our website) about adverse childhood experiences and ‘toxic stress’.  PNS’ screening was for parents, since they’re crucial in making needed attitudinal and behavioural shifts. Parents provided valuable feedback on the impacts of being labelled as a family with ACEs.  At this stage in PNS there is a real thirst for knowledge on how to break the cycle of Ace’s and share it with others.

It is indisputably right and necessary to do everything possible to assist children who face or endure serious harm. Responding compassionately, early and effectively to reduce the trauma of multiple ACEs deserves to be a high priority for everyone working with families. Many parents who have experienced multiple disadvantages in their lives and struggling to deal with their own challenges fear the shame of opening up and being judged by practitioners.

To help overcome this fear we offer the following suggestions:

  1. Avoid an inaccurate and unhelpful ‘us’ and ‘them’ mindset. The original ACEs studies (this link will take you away from our website) were conducted with adults in America’s Kaiser Permanente’s health plan. Their recollections of adverse childhood experiences (i.e. their ACE scores) were analysed alongside the company’s record of their health status/care.

Adverse childhood experiences exist in every corner of Scottish society, too. It would be wrong to focus solely on the ‘usual suspects’ – the 20-25% regularly classified as ‘vulnerable’.

  1. Support, rather than ‘blame and shame’, parents. The original research was conducted among adults looking back; not with children and young people currently experiencing adversity. Working well with the parents of the original, adult participants was a non-issue for Kaiser Permanente.

But, it is front and centre for Scotland today. This offers a brilliant chance to take actions resulting in better lives and life chances for the young. Such actions should also help parents acknowledge, and move toward resolving, the ACEs from their childhoods. That toxic legacy continues to (mis)shape their attitudes and behaviours, as people and as parents.

  1. Give preventing ACEs the same priority as overcoming them. Scotland’s ‘tradition’ has been to wait for a crisis before taking meaningful action. As a society, we talk a better prevention game than we play. Keeping adverse childhood experiences from happening in the first place is always the less costly and more effective option.

But, what Scotland needs most is action on ACEs that balances prevention and intervention. That means dealing with the social and economic inequalities that lead to ACEs. It also means engaging and empowering families. The combination of collective and individual action can break the toxic cycle. Let’s help each generation (dealt too many ACEs themselves) deal ever-better hands to the next generation.

To this end PNS has trained parent facilitators and are piloting an ACE’s Recovery Toolkit.  The toolkit will help and support parents who complete our core programme – Parenting Matters.  Digging a little deeper and finding new and resilient ways to overcome challenges and find ways of navigating life that does not pull on old disruptive habits. The hope is that by building trusting relationships we can help each other overcome some of the ACE blocks that blight our lives.

You can follow Parent Network Scotland on Twitter @pns2018 (this link will take you away from our website)

We thought you might also like: