Children and young people who have grown up in care are surrounded by statistics, stereotypes and language that can predetermine their outcomes before they have had a chance to define themselves, separate from the impact of early adversity.
The wider societal understanding of what it means to be a ‘kid in care’ and the associated outcomes can influence a deficit lens for young people growing up in the care system.
Throughout my training, over the last two years, I have asked hundreds of professionals to share words that they associate or hear associated with the children and young people they support. 99% of the time I am initially met with words and phrases such as ‘challenging behaviour’, ‘hard to engage’, ‘NEET’ and ‘naughty’.
It takes an active ask to hear the positive phrases, for practitioners and carers to bring their young people to life; and when they do, they share words such as loving, caring, resilient, funny and trying. This second list of words, I argue, should be the starting point, for us to start to reframe the language that surrounds our young people, for them to be surrounded by adults who start with, see, and build on the good. The words that surround us influence how we see ourselves in the world, what we think we’re capable of and in turn who we think we can become.
If the adults don’t dare to dream for us, how can we dream for ourselves?
This is the premise for much of my work with professionals, supporting the ‘flipping of the script’ on the potential and possibility of the children and young people they support; this approach has an influence on the workshop I am delivering on 5 December, on using a strengths based approach to understanding early childhood adversity.
The research surrounding the potential impact of early childhood adversity is well documented. Linked to an array of poor negative health outcomes, the more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that a child experiences, the more likely they are to go on to have poor health outcomes. ACEs can be defined as a list of 10 potentially traumatic events that can occur in childhood, before the age of 17, which can be categorised into abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. The associated negative health outcomes are linked to chronic health problems, substance misuse and mental illness in adulthood; the one that really got me was the statistic that children who experience four or more of these ACEs are more likely to die, on average, 20 years earlier than their peers.
When I first understood this research I was keen to learn what this meant for me in my own life. I understood that being in care itself is an experience of adversity and almost inevitably means that you are likely to have experienced one or more ACEs. This led me to complete the ‘ACEs questionnaire’ where I answered the 10 questions that would define my ACEs score. When I was met with a score of 7, I felt doomed; the associated poor outcomes flashing through my mind, I felt determined to an adulthood of pain and dysfunction. However, I soon learned that this research was just the starting point, not the end.
Understanding my ACEs score led me to immerse myself in the question ‘why might I be ok, when everything around me tells me I shouldn’t be?’.
This is where the potential for positive change starts to shine; it’s where I began to understand ‘what makes the difference’ in supporting children and young people to overcome, manage and thrive beyond the early adversity. It lies in the understanding of the malleability of the brain, of the environments and characteristics that support healing, understanding and reframing of our experiences.
It’s these environments and characteristics that we’ll delve into on 5 December in the ‘Strengths-Based Approach to Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences’ workshop.
“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower”- Alexander Den Heije.
Thank you Mary-anne for sharing this blog post with us. You can find out more about Mary-anne, and book for her workshop on 5 December, here.