Helping pupils deal with trauma effects
Schools in Wales are being encouraged to give staff training to help pupils overcome the damaging effects of family splits, bereavement and having a parent in prison during early childhood.
Teachers, lunchtime supervisors and other support staff will be offered training to make them more aware of adverse childhood experiences’ lifelong impact on pupils.
This includes family breakdown or bereavement, verbal and physical abuse, drug and alcohol abuse in the home, having a parent in prison, sexual abuse and mental illness.
Research by Public Health Wales and Bangor University shows that 41% of adults with four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) now suffer mental health issues. Four or more ACEs also leave an adult four times more likely to be a high-risk drinker, six times more likely to smoke and 14 times more likely to have been involved in violence in the last year, the study shows.
Public Health Wales is now working with Cymru Well Wales, the criminal justice sector, Barnardo’s Cymru, the NSPCC and a wide range of other partners to look at ways to mitigate the effects of ACEs.
The organisations say research shows having access to a trusted adult in childhood, supportive friends and being engaged in community activities such as sports reduces the risks of developing mental illness.
Three primary schools in Bridgend county have been involved in a pilot project funded by the Home Office Police Innovation Fund and the South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner – and a training package will be available to all primary and secondary schools in Wales from the middle of this year, said Barnardo’s.
Garth Primary School, Maesteg, was one of the pilots, along with Caerau and Llangynwyd.
Garth headteacher Julie Thomas said: “One of our key aims has always been to develop the resilience of our children, so our staff were engaged from the beginning.
“The resources were really professional and the fact that the training involved support staff too made it feel very inclusive. I think it will help us address pupils’ wellbeing needs and give hope to children who have experienced trauma in their lives.”
Sian Griffiths, an additional learning needs co-ordinator at St Gwladys Primary School, Bargoed, has been seconded to Public Health Wales to oversee the pilot and the roll-out of the training package across Wales.
She said: “This is a multi-agency approach and we hope schools will look at where they are now in terms of pupils’ wellbeing and where they could be.
“Healthy Schools co-ordinators will create action plans and, by becoming ACE-informed schools, they will be able to provide emotional coaching for pupils and develop their resilience while also looking after staff wellbeing.
“Children’s behaviour is their way of communicating and we need to be better at understanding the changes in brain development when they are living in an environment with toxic stress. Experiencing four or more ACEs has a tremendous impact not just on their education but their whole lives, including their mental and physical health.
“We can’t take away those ACESs but we can help children develop resilience by helping them build relationships with supportive, caring role models so they feel safe and secure and can share their worries. They need to feel part of a community and things like sporting activities can really help.”
Barnardo’s Cymru has worked closely with Garth on a “whole-school approach” to building children’s resilience. Pupils have been taught how to recognise their emotions and handle them better, look after children who look sad or lonely in the playground and feel more positive about themselves.
Teachers report a “dramatic difference in children’s behaviour as a result,” the charity said.