I had a meeting with Jane Evans today, planning the early years conference on 4th April in Bristol. Read for more information.
‘This is my childhood’ will consider why combinations of domestic violence, mental illness and substance misuse are present in so many families where children are considered vulnerable or at serious risk. Impaired development through neglect, physical abuse or lack of parenting awareness all contribute threats to a child’s optimal development.
I asked Jane what she would be presenting at the conference.
Some of what Jane will be discussing is the complex nature of adversity in safeguarding children as many specialists have only specific knowledge of the causations of trauma. It is well understood that some children live in households where domestic violence, substance misuse or mental health issues or a combination of the three are significant issues in their lives. It is understood that the more adversarial situations the child is exposed to result in much more profound trauma. Furthermore the financial cost of helping children overcome these effects are profound.
I asked about the problems in services and parenting styles and how they can be overcome:
Jane explained that the dramatic rise in children and young people’s mental health and challenging behaviour is due to our misunderstanding of what ‘trauma’ means. It is often thought that a traumatic event is large, such as a parental divorce, an external event such as 7/7 or more. In fact by the age of 18 it has been found that nearly all individuals have been exposed to one significant traumatic event.
However trauma isn’t just a large event, it is in fact also caused by repetitive events such as domestic abuse, substance misuse and parental mental illness which cause continuous fear and anxiety. Stressful environments also causes fear and anxiety. This is on the rise due to stress from parents where they are more caught up in work and external life. As a result there is far less emotional engagement with our children.
The importance of this knowledge in safeguarding practices is vital as it enables the signs and symptoms of trauma to be identified, thus protection and prevention can ensue.
I asked Jane what she thought needed to change to protect children:
Jane has a strong belief that everyone working with children, specifically the first 1,001 days, need to be educated on the importance of their relationship with the children and understanding trauma.
There needs to be a basic understanding of brain development in childcare providers such as the social and emotional areas and how the impact of their care influences the development of the children they look after. It is a common myth that young children can manipulate adults and care providers behaviour and this often results in adults trying to control children in a damaging way. Educating parents and those caring for children about basic neuroscience and attachment theory helps with understanding how children grow up and how best to look after them without feeling manipulated.
What about those who look after children with love and care but feel intimidated about learning the science behind child development?
Jane stated that all of those caring for children need to have accessible and straightforward training as well as understandings of the actions which are being instinctively undertaken. To enable this knowledge Jane feels that training should be given alongside current safeguarding training. The benefits would be helping children develop a stable and healthy template for emotional connections and development, therefore the caregiver needs to understand the affects their support – or lack of – has on their children.
Child protection needs to be prioritised to help prevent and reduce the huge rise in mental health issues and substance misuse in today’s children. It cannot be ignored any longer and those in the caring professions need help to instigate change. UNICEF and Dame Tessa Jowell through her parliamentary group are taking the initiative and working with current research to help spread the knowledge of trauma and the effects it can have on children.
The time has come to prioritise children’s welfare.
Having had this conversation with Jane it now seems more important than ever to pool our knowledge and make April 4th a significant event.by