HM Insights

Adverse Childhood Experiences, resilience and protecting children involved in the court process

Mental Health Awareness week, which runs from 14–20 May 2018, places an emphasis upon thinking about how stress can have a negative impact upon both mental and physical wellbeing.

Given the stress which being involved in court proceedings can bring, it is timely that the Scottish Government has now launched a consultation to consider how children and victims of domestic violence can be prioritised in family court cases when parents separate.

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The government will be seeking views from members of the public on:

  • How the court obtains the views of the child in family cases
  • Protection of victims of domestic abuse and their children during family court proceedings
  • Regulation of child contact centres and of child welfare reporters who advise sheriffs and judges in family court cases
  • How children can maintain relationships with key adults in their lives
  • Alternatives to court such as family mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution
  • Aspects of the Children’s Hearing’s system, which aims to ensure the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people

This type of fact finding and consultation process is particularly useful at a time when research about the impact of what are referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is being made available throughout Scotland.

Resilience: the biology of stress and the science of hope

Children 1st, Scotland's National Children's Charity, recently screened a documentary film 'Resilience: the biology of stress and the science of hope' to an audience of both professionals and lay people involved in working with and caring for families and children.

Amanda Masson and Nadine Martin, part of Harper Macleod's family law team, both attended the screening and were able to spend time discussing their experience of how ACEs can impact adults and children involved in separation and divorce with the CEO of Children 1st, Mary Glasgow.

The film explains how research carried out about the relationship between childhood trauma and the risk for physical and mental illness in adulthood shows that people who have experienced six or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have a life expectancy 10 years lower than their peers. ACEs are a stronger indicator of heart disease than any other traditionally identified risk factors. There are 10 main areas where ACEs can occur, including exposure to physical violence or verbal abuse from a parent, substance abuse by a parent, and also where parents separate or divorce.

A key message from the Resilience screening was one of hope and that protection and support of children who have been exposed to ACEs does lead to more positive outcomes for them.

Does court have to be an adverse childhood experience?

Given the information which we now have about the impact of stress upon mental wellbeing both in adults and children and the consequences of ACEs, it is positive that the Scottish Government is opening up a process of discussion about how people involved in decision-making processes for children, including their parents, ensure that an involvement with the court process does not become another adverse experience for a child.

Harper MacLeod is a supporter of Children1st and we will be working closely with the charity to ensure that the lessons which can be learned from "Resilience" are used in our day-to-day work for the benefit of our clients and their children.

The Scottish Government consultation can be accessed here.

Get in touch with our family law specialists

For help or advice about any matter raised in this article please contact us for a confidential chat. Call us on  0141 227 9545 or find out more about our services on our family page.