Help­ing pupils deal with trauma ef­fects

Western Mail - - EDUCATION WALES - Ab­bie Wightwick Ed­u­ca­tion ed­i­tor ab­bie.wightwick@me­di­

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.

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