Today, the Wales Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Support Hub launch a Welsh Government funded campaign to urge people to take the time to be kind to help reduce the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences.
ACEs are traumatic experiences that occur during childhood that cause children to repeatedly suffer. The experiences can directly harm a child (e.g. physical or verbal abuse) or can indirectly affect children through the adversity in the environments they live in, where the child can often feel powerless or believe this to be normal behaviour (e.g. domestic abuse, substance misuse).
The campaign follows the implementation of a Gwent Police scheme where they notify schools before 09:00 if pupils have been affected by abuse in the home in the previous 24 hours.
Research led by Professor Mark Bellis of Public Health Wales published in 2016 revealed that almost half (47%) the people in Wales have had at least one ACE, with 14% of people in Wales having had more than four.
In 2017, Public Health Wales published the Welsh Adverse Childhood Experience and Resilience Study, that tells us ACEs are responsible for nearly a quarter of current adult smoking, over a third of teenage pregnancies and more than half of violence, heroin/crack use and incarceration.
Reflected in population terms, eradicating ACEs could ultimately result in over 125,000 fewer smokers or e-cigarette users across Wales and reducing over 55,000 fewer people who have ever used heroin or crack cocaine. ACEs can also be responsible for poor mental well-being that remains long into adulthood, resulting in health-harming and anti-social behaviours in adult life.
The report also says those in Wales who suffered four or more ACEs are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a chronic disease in later life compared to adults that have experienced none.
For those who are suffering or have suffered ACEs, kindness and support from friends, families and those in the community can reduce the risks of adopting such health harming behaviours.
Mandy, 40 from south Wales, grew up in a household where her mother suffered domestic abuse including physical and verbal abuse and coercive control perpetrated by her stepfather. Her stepfather also verbally abused her: “I’d receive horrendous verbal abuse daily which still affects me today. If I hear an unexpected loud noise, it startles me, taking me back to the slam of my stepfather’s fist on the table. You always knew, it’s starting again”, she said.
Kindness helped Mandy when a friend’s mother often took her in to stay with their family when things got rough. It was where she felt safe: “I loved being there, it was such a happy environment and we used to sit round the table in the kitchen with the family and just laugh and joke. We’d sit there eating crisps and chocolate and talk rubbish, something as small as that had a huge impact on my understanding of a normal family life.”
Joanne Hopkins, Director of the ACEs Support Hub said: “If a child doesn’t have access to things that help create resilience, such as trusted adult relationships when growing up, then the trauma and stress caused by these experiences can physically change how a child’s brain develops.
“This can display as challenging behaviour in children, as well as long-term physical and mental health problems as they grow up. However, it is never too late to break the cycle.
“Relationships and kindness are the most powerful forms of human therapy and can have a healing effect on children living with toxic stress at home.”
Professor Mark Bellis, Director of Policy, Research and International Development for Public Health Wales said: “Sadly, too many children still grow up in households where violence, alcohol abuse and neglect are part of everyday life. ACEs don’t just affect children; they can have a long-lasting effect of the health and behaviour of people throughout their lives and across every social boundary.
“A little kindness and support from a trusted adult can make a remarkable difference to children and can help protect their longer term mental and physical health. This might not always be easy to provide, as children from difficult home environments may come across as angry, distant and disinterested. However, these children are often the ones who may benefit most from a little kindness and a reminder that things can be different.”
Julie Morgan, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services said: “The Welsh Government fully supports this important campaign. It offers a simple and yet powerful message. Showing compassion and kindness to others can make a positive difference, particularly to those who have and are continuing to be impacted by ACEs.”
“The evidence is clear that, if left unchecked, ACEs will continue to impact on current and future generations. This campaign represents an important step in our ambition to make Wales an ACE aware country.”
Anyone can help. From thinking twice before you judge a child that’s behaving in a challenging way, to listening and being there for them when they need you.
Reaching out might only take a second – but it could change someone’s life forever.
That’s why it’s always worth taking the time to be kind. Visit http://www.aceawarewales.com/timetobekind for more information.