ACEs Aware

On Tuesday 19 March, our Charities and Commerce sector hosted an event aimed at raising awareness of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

The event was very well attended by students and those within the local community who were keen to gain a better understanding of ACEs, the way they impact on individuals who have suffered trauma and what can be done to help mitigate the negative outcomes.

Nadine Martin, the chair of our discussion, is a solicitor in the family law practice area of Harper Macleod. She brought insight from her career to the discussion. She gave us a fantastic whistle stop tour of what ACEs are and the impact that they can have.  In terms of ACEs within the criminal justice system, Nadine spoke of the tension between rehabilitation versus punishment for those who have suffered from adverse childhood experiences. She said that those who have been affected by ACEs are likely to end up in prison, where their life then becomes a constant cycle of being in and out of custody, meaning that we need a shift in culture in the criminal justice system. She pointed to an example in America where they actually have mental health courts to deal with certain cases, which is a system that could potentially work very well in Scotland.

Our next speaker was Dr Johnstone who has worked across many different types of forensic mental health services – for both adults and children – including those who are low, medium and high security. Dr Johnstone provided an extremely eye-opening presentation on how there ought to be a paradigm shift away from labelling children who have been affected by trauma as “psychopaths”. She said “when you consider children showing violent tendencies, previously they would’ve been labelled as psychopaths, but what can be seen now is a severe lack of care from their parents.” This level of stress at a young age is what impacts on a child’s healthy brain development and leads to negative outcomes in later life, such as crime, alcohol and drug abuse, and disease.

Our third speaker was Chris Lewis from the charity Children 1st. Chris has vast experience of working with children and families, and thus had a lot of insight to share during the discussion. One eye-opening story related to how important it is for children to form an attachment with at least one person to allow them to develop and form healthy relationships in the future. She spoke of how children in an orphanage who slept next to the bedroom door and were gushed over by the cleaner who came in every night went on to develop better interpersonal relationships than the children in the other side of the room who did not receive the same attention.

The takeaway point from the event is that compassion is the way forward. Children who have suffered trauma should not be further ostracised, but should be shown kindness to enable them to form relationships, enable healthy brain development and in turn lessen the negative impact of adverse childhood experiences. The Aberdeen Law Project would like to once again thank Nadine Martine, Dr Johnstone and Chris Lewis for their work relating to ACEs and for their participation in our event.