Published by TES, August 2018

Traumatic experiences early in life can have a ‘huge impact’ on learning and mental health, children’s charity says

A children’s charity has called for teachers to receive more training in how to support children who have experienced trauma.

A survey by Barnardo’s Scotland showed that many school staff have not been trained on the impact of early trauma and “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs).

The charity says that the impact of early trauma and adversity on a child can be “severe and enduring”, whether this is parental divorce or imprisonment, substance misuse, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, bereavement or loss.

These early experiences can have “a huge impact on a child’s development, their ability to learn and their mental health and wellbeing”, the charity warns.

Responding to childhood trauma

Barnardo’s assistant director Laura Falconer, whose role focuses on mental health and wellbeing, said:

“It is crucial that schools create an environment where all staff know how to support and respond to children affected by early trauma, where children are taught to develop the skills they need to understand and cope with their experience, and where staff feel confident linking in with additional support if needed.”

She added:

“Teaching children from an early age about emotional awareness, how to self-regulate and the skills to support resilience are essential parts of preventing future problems with their mental health and wellbeing.”

Margot MacAlister, headteacher at St Francis Primary School in Edinburgh, said:

“As a headteacher, I make it a priority to ensure my staff have access to a programme of professional development and training that gives them a set of skills to identify and support behaviours as a result of early childhood trauma.”

Barnardo’s Scotland said it welcomed the Scottish government’s commitment to funding a national trauma training programme but that other national priorities – such as closing the attainment gap between rich and poor and improving children’s mental health – need to have “a core focus on the impact of early and developmental trauma on a child’s ability to learn and thrive”.

The online survey by YouGov, on behalf of Barnardo’s Scotland, canvassed opinion from 150 adults working in primary or secondary education in Scotland.