It is well known that the experiences we have early on in our lives and particularly in childhood significantly impacts how we grow and develop, our physical, emotional and mental health, and in turn our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

As part of our understanding of emotional wellbeing in education, it is important we recognise that not all of our experiences are positive and that we consider adverse experiences in childhood as we endeavour to support the young people in our care. Adverse Childhood Experiences are defined as “highly stressful, and potentially traumatic, events or situations that occur during childhood and/or adolescence. They can be a single event or prolonged threats to, and breaches of, the young person’s safety, security, trust or bodily integrity.” (Young Minds, 2018).

The following are examples of ACEs: Physical abuse, living with someone who abused alcohol, living with someone with a serious illness or losing a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Unfortunately, ACEs are common with a 2014 UK study finding that 47% of people experienced at least one ACE with 9% of the population having 4+ ACES (Bellis et al, 2014).

But what are the impacts of ACEs?

Experiencing ACEs can have an impact on our future emotional and mental health, and often ACEs can be barriers to healthy attachment relationships forming for children. Some widely found effects of ACEs are that they cause an increase in the risk of mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. 1 in 3 diagnosed mental health conditions in adulthood directly relate to ACEs.

ACEs can also often lead to poor physical health and negative events happening later in life, an ACE survey with adults in Wales found that compared to people with no ACEs, those with 4 or more ACEs are more likely to ):

  • have been in prison
  • develop heart disease
  • frequently visit the GP
  • develop type 2 diabetes
  • have committed violence in the last 12 months
  • have health-harming behaviours (high-risk drinking, smoking, drug use)

(GovWales, 2020)

So how can schools help to identify and reduce the harmful effect of ACEs

Firsty, we have a duty to prevent these negative impacts on the rights of the child (Unicef, 1992) where we can. But we also know that ACEs work through experience, not just exposure. Exposure alone doesn’t necessarily mean a child will face a long-term negative impact. If the ACE is prevented from causing toxic stress, long-term harm can be prevented. With a caring and nurturing environment, we can help build children with the resilience that buffers them from the impact of ACEs.

School staff are the professionals who spend the most time with children and young people. This means that schools are well placed to identify difficulties and support and influence children and young people.

By identifying and being aware of ACE factors within individual children schools can work with these pupils to develop resilience and reduce the effects of the toxic stress caused by ACEs later in life.

How can Motional assist in this?

Motional is a suite of evidence-based, easy-to-use tools designed to measure, positively impact, and report on emotional health across the whole school or setting.

It supports access to a healthy life and learning through improved emotional wellbeing, offers guidance, activities and resources for intervention work with individual pupils or whole classes, generating data to provide a ‘whole school’ approach.

The individual snapshot allows teachers to complete a questionnaire on each pupil, which in turn generates a profile for that individual. The snapshot can record ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and Protective Factor scores where required and gives staff a whole-brain picture of students’ mental health and wellbeing. The software then recommends intervention activities for each individual to improve their emotional wellbeing and provide a structured approach for teachers. More than this the tool is designed to be time-efficient and to impact across classes and groups (recognising the intense workload on school staff), and to provide whole-school and cohort data and reporting.

If you would like to know more about how Motional can benefit your organisation please do not hesitate to book a call with a member of our team.