HM Insights

Creating a world where professionals dealing with children are ACE aware

Start where you are. Do what you can. This is the message of the campaign to raise awareness of the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on health and welfare outcomes in Scotland.

Harper Macleod's family law team hosted over 100 delegates from the legal profession and associated sectors for a screening of the seminal documentary, Resilience, on 12 November. Resilience tells the story of the public health work done in the US to expose the biological link between traumatic experiences in childhood and adverse outcomes across a whole host of measures related to physical and mental wellbeing later in life.

The film highlights the risk factors that result in a child living with toxic stress so extreme that it causes a shift in the make-up of the brain and influences future health and welfare. The film also introduces some of the ways in which this information is beginning to cause a ripple around the world and influence policy decisions in areas as diverse as education, health care and policing.

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Lawyers and other professionals gathered to learn more about the impact of ACEs

By screening the film for a legal audience in Scotland for the first time, Harper Macleod has brought the issue of ACEs to the attention of the legal profession. Many legal practitioners, particularly in the family law sphere, will be well aware that traumatic events such as family breakdown, domestic violence and physical or emotional abuse or neglect have lasting consequences but Resilience draws all of the threads together on a scientific basis and represents a strong foundation for the continuing dialogue about how Scottish solicitors can reflect on the significance of ACEs in their everyday practice.

The film screening was followed by a Q&A with an impressive and passionate panel chaired by Mary Glasgow, CEO of Children 1st, Scotland’s national children’s charity. Mary was joined by eminent research scientist, Dr Suzanne Zeedyk; top ranked Scottish advocate, Janys Scott QC; and Associate, Nadine Martin of Harper Macleod.

Insightful audience questions prompted the panel's discussion about perceived problems with the traditional legal processes in family law matters. The adversarial nature of Scotland's court system was highlighted as a concern and the process of going to court was described as being more traumatic for children than the original trauma the justice system is seeking to address.

The tendency to label children as having mental health problems requiring "treatment" was identified as an area in need of change and the allocation of resources and lack of support services available in the immediate aftermath of an adverse childhood experience was also criticised. Tellingly, one exasperated solicitor revealed that she has trained as a family therapist to offer support to families where there is otherwise none available.

Armed with the knowledge so powerfully expressed in Resilience, we can all think carefully about how to deal with our cases, how to act sensitively and compassionately and how to make adjustments in our usual ways of working to improve the process for children and those affected by ACEs at times when our clients and their families are in crisis.

This film raises many important issues for reflection by the legal profession. Its screening and the discussion which followed is a small but meaningful step towards transforming Scotland into an ACE aware nation so, please, start where you are and do what you can to support Harper Macleod spread the message about ACEs and create a world where lawyers are ACE aware.

Get in touch

To find out more about raising ACE awareness in the legal profession please contact Nadine Martin.