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Staff at every school in Wales are to be offered training to help pupils tackle the damaging effects of early childhood trauma, ranging from sexual abuse to family bereavement.
The training shows teachers and teaching assistants how to use age-appropriate tools including puppets and real life stories. In addition, sessions are held for parents. Older children are also shown how to act as helpers to playground supervisors and given guidance on forming Friendship Groups focussing on communication skills, teamwork and effective conflict management.
A pilot project has been run in three primary schools in Bridgend funded by the Home Office Police Innovation Fund and the South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner. The training programme is now going to be rolled out to all primary and secondary schools in Wales from the middle of the year.
Sian Griffiths is an additional learning needs co-ordinator at St Gwladys Primary School, Bargoed, seconded to Public Health Wales to oversee the pilot and the roll-out of the training package across Wales. She said: “This is a multi-agency approach and we hope schools will look at where they are now in terms of pupils’ wellbeing and where they could be. Healthy Schools co-ordinators will create action plans and by becoming ACE-informed schools they will be able to provide emotional coaching for pupils and develop their resilience while also looking after staff wellbeing.”
The aim of the training is to increase awareness of the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) which include family breakdown, bereavement, verbal and physical abuse, drug and alcohol abuse in the home, having a parent in prison as well as sexual abuse and mental illness.
Forty-one per cent of adults with four or more ACEs suffer mental health problems, according to research from Public Health Wales and Bangor University. This high level of adverse childhood experiences also makes an adult four times more likely to be a high-risk drinker, six times more likely to be a smoker and 14 times more likely to have been involved in violence in the last year.
The pilot schools received an initial introduction to ACEs awareness which was delivered by Barnardo’s Cymru and the NSPCC, then two further sessions from educational psychologists looking at how to support children affected by trauma.
Garth Primary School, Maesteg, was one of the pilots, along with Caerau and Llangynwyd. Head of Garth, Julie Thomas, said: “The training demonstrated the importance of our role as a school. One of our key aims has always been to develop the resilience of our children so our staff were engaged from the beginning.
“The resources were really professional and the fact that the training involved support staff too made it feel very inclusive. I think it will help us address pupils’ wellbeing needs and give hope to children who have experienced trauma in their lives.
“We can’t take away those ACESs but we can help children develop resilience by helping them build relationships with supportive, caring role models so they feel safe and secure and can share their worries. They need to feel part of a community and things like sporting activities can really help.”
Public Health Wales is now working with Cymru Well Wales, the criminal justice sector, Barnardo’s Cymru, the NSPCC and a wide range of other partners to look at ways of lessening the effects of ACEs.
That includes helping children to become more resilient. Research has shown that having access to a trusted adult in childhood, supportive friends and being engaged in community activities such as sports reduces the risks of developing mental illness.