(L to R) Sara Dodds, Adviser on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) & Resilience, Scottish Government; Michael Smith, NHS Health Scotland; Sharon Doherty, NHS Scotland
It usually takes the passage of time to identify the point when a movement gains momentum and advances to the next level. Reflecting on the evolution of Scotland’s ACEs/trauma-informed movement, one of its early leaders, Dr. Michael Smith, says the foundation was just being built two years ago when a catalytic visit by Jane Stevens, founder and publisher of ACEs Connection, galvanized core activists and convinced naysayers that ACEs science was real and had the power to transform lives and systems across society.
Stevens’ talks two years ago turned some skeptics around and provided inspiration to believers just at the right time, according to Smith who invited her to Scotland after he heard her speak several months before in New York City. Some of the key milestones and activities include two reports that set priorities for Scotland, dozens of screenings of the film Resilience followed by panel discussions, the formation of a national ACEs HUB to enhance information sharing, and the creation of dedicated staff positions within the Scotland government to address ACEs.
Smith is the National Health Service (NHS) medical director for Glasgow and Clyde, and played a key role in organizing a pre-meeting or “match” I attended on ACEs and Trauma-Informed approaches in Scotland, which drew local leaders as well as others from the US, Finland, and England. The match was part of the annual meeting of the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership (IIMHL) that convened later in the week in Stockholm, attracting 400 participants from over 25 countries.
The Scotland ACEs meeting, hosted by Health Scotland and the Mental Health Foundation of Scotland, included a day filled with presentations about ACEs-related innovation in Scotland and discussions about the development of a policy framework, practice, and cultural changes to improve mental health and wellbeing by reducing the harm caused by ACEs.
The second day moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh for a site visit to Ypeople, a housing and youth services organization in Scotland, followed by a meeting led by Sara Dodds, Scotland Adviser on ACEs & Resilience, with key government officials representing a wide variety of departments. Finally, there was a reception hosted by the Minister for Mental Health in the Scottish Parliament, Linda Fabiani Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) with remarks by Maureen Watt MSP, Minister of Mental Health.
Both the Glasgow session and the Edinburgh reception featured performances by singer songwriter Donna Maciocia who works with people—some who have experienced the criminal justice system in a variety of ways (e.g., individuals in custody, prison workers, victims)—to express themselves through songwriting as part of the healing process. She collaborates with Vox Liminis and Lorretto Care to produce raw and honest music that tells the story how individuals meet the challenges of addiction, homelessness, and other painful human conditions. At the Glasgow meeting, Maciocia’s colleague Michael Timmons spoke about how this work connects the brain and the heart, both for the individuals who write their stories and for the listeners.
The key milestones and activities show how the ACEs movement is being embraced by the entirety of Scotland. These include the development of priority setting reports, screenings of the film Resilience followed by panel discussions, the formation of a national ACEs HUB to enhance information sharing, and the creation of dedicated staff positions within the Scotland government to address ACEs.
The first major report, ‘Polishing the Diamonds: Addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences in Scotland,” was issued by the Scottish Public Health Network in May 2016 and set out areas for action related to preventing and mitigating the impact of ACEs and building resilience. The Scottish ACEs HUB was established by NHS Health Scotland “to help inform and shape the actions identified in this report.” In September 2017, A Nation with Ambition: the Government’s Programme for Scotland 2017-2018 was published. In March of this year, an ACEs ministerial event was held in Glasgow.
Reoccurring themes over the two days included the importance of prevention of ACEs, involvement by people with lived experience in every aspect of ACEs policy and practice, and a focus on the wellbeing of the whole person rather than on a diagnosis-driven medical model approach. Going forward, the agenda of the Scottish ACEs movement will include the development of community-based responses to ACEs and specific action items related to funding and new authorities by the national government. Excitement also is building for a visit in September by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris.