ACEs – Why Education Professionals Need to be Aware

ACEs are ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ – a term used to describe a set of events experienced before the age of 18 which can increase the possibility of negative, lifelong emotional, and mental and physical health implications.

The term ACEs was first coined from a 1990s study carried out in California. Over time, additional studies have redefined the risk factors listed. These are:

  • Household challenges: domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, separation/ divorce/ loss, and/or incarceration of a family member.
  • Abuse: emotional, physical and/or sexual
  • Neglect: emotional and/or physical.

The more ACEs that impact on a child, the greater the chances of:

  • disrupted Neurodevelopment,
  • social, emotional and cognitive impairments,
  • adoption of behaviours that are a risk to health,
  • disease , disability and social problems,
  • early death.

ACEs should come with a note of caution; they only focus on the negative impacts and don’t take into account the positive experiences in childhood; such as a loving relationship with a family member, a trusted friend who they can confide in or a teacher who believes in you; that can build resilience and protection from the effects of trauma. This is where educational professionals can have the most impact.

In order to reduce the impact of ACEs, educational settings should:

  • Create and sustain safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments.
  • Teach social and emotional skills.
  • Be curious about a child’s experience in order to meet needs.
  • Use Pupil Premium funding to enable children to access learning opportunities that they may have missed.
  • Recognise the challenges that families face and offer support and understanding.
  • Work with community organisations to provide family support.
  • Encourage children to reach their full potential.

My mantra of ‘be kind, be curious, be connected’ is especially important in this context.

Share your good practice in the comments below.

Environmental Changes: Physical Setting

The physical environment has a massive impact on the way we teach, the routines we put in palce and the ability of our children to learn.

Take a moment to reflect on the environmental changes that we’ve had to make as a result of our current working practices. Tables facing the front, windows open, teaching from the front or from a screen… the list goes on. The impact of these changes has been varied.

  • The reduction in movement around the classroom has helped those children who struggle with the hustle and bustle of transitions, but have removed the regular movement opportunities that children need.
  • Children now have their own set of resources at their desks which helps those who struggle to organise themselves, but has reduced opportunities to teach and practice the skill of sharing.
  • Many schools have relaxed their school uniform policies so that children are able to dress warmly/ come to school in their PE kits. For children with sensory need this has reduced the anxiety caused by uncomfortable uniforms.

Little changes to the physical environment have had an impact. For some it has been a positive experience, for others, less so. It’s sometimes difficult to predict the impact of a change to the physical setting because each one of us experiences it in a slightly different way.

As a proactive positive behaviour support strategy, adjustments to the physical setting can have a positive impact for many, but it’s important to monitor the impact and adapt as necessary – where possible. You can make physical changes to your classroom that minimise crowding or help children to access resources independently.

Think about the following list as a start to making proactive physical changes in your teaching space:

  • lighting
  • temperature
  • personal space
  • size of equipment
  • noise levels (think about electronics and heating)
  • number of people
  • arrangement of furniture
  • accessibility of resources
  • movement around the space

Next week I’ll look at the impact of making changes to communication styles.

What positive physical environment changes have you made in your setting? What was the impact? Share your experiences in the comments below.