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Meeting date: Thursday, January 27, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 27 January 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Holocaust Memorial Day, Portfolio Question Time, Budget (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Adverse Childhood Experiences


Contents


Adverse Childhood Experiences

The final item of business is a member’s business debate on motion S6M-02798, in the name of Rona Mackay, on support for the 70/30 campaign to reduce adverse childhood experiences by 2030. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask those who wish to contribute to the debate to push their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible, or to place an R in the chat function.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges what it sees as the devastation caused to lives through adverse childhood experiences (ACEs); recognises the aim of the Wave Trust 70/30 Campaign to eradicate poverty and reduce child abuse and neglect and other ACEs by at least 70% by 2030; notes the calls on all political parties to work collegiately, through cross-portfolio action, to achieve this; understands that 122 MSPs and 513 MPs have signed the 70/30 Campaign pledge to create a better future for everyone, including for people in the Strathkelvin and Bearsden constituency, and notes the calls for all elected members to do so.

17:14  

I thank all members who supported my motion on the WAVE Trust’s 70/30 campaign to end adverse childhood experiences by 2030.

Before I was elected, I was a children’s hearings panel member in Glasgow East, and I found the work enormously rewarding. At every hearing, we saw a child, or sometimes just the parents or guardians of a child, who needed help or an intervention. Often, we saw or considered the case of a child who had been caught in the system for years—caught in an endless cycle of supervision orders, neglect or offending behaviour. That child was typical of a youngster who had suffered a catalogue of adverse childhood experiences throughout their life.

Everyone who is in the chamber or who is listening to the debate will appreciate that ACEs and their often devastating consequences are now well known. They are no respecter of background. A young person from an affluent home can experience ACEs just as one from a less privileged home can. A well-off parent can neglect or abuse their child in the same way as a poorer parent. However, we do know that poverty is an overwhelmingly acute driver of ACEs and is the root cause of so many damaging issues for young people. Poverty can lead to hopelessness, parental addiction that often leads to neglect, the lack of a positive role model, a chaotic lifestyle and so much more.

Children do not need money to stay on the right path, but they do need attachment, stability and love to feel secure and happy. ACEs can lead to a lifetime of trouble, low expectations, dependency, poor health and insecurity.

The WAVE Trust is a United Kingdom and Ireland-wide network of individuals, organisations and elected representatives. Led by chief executive officer George Hosking and his team, it also acts as the secretariat of the cross-party group of which I am the convener. The WAVE Trust is dedicated and passionate about achieving the ambitious goal of a 70 per cent reduction in ACEs by 2030.

At least half of the children in the UK will suffer ACEs during their childhood. To achieve the campaign’s goal, it is essential that decision makers and those who hold the purse strings have the right policies and take the right actions. In 2015, Professor Sir Harry Burns, the former chief medical officer of Scotland, said:

“I do not view 70/30 as either wishful thinking or an unachievable goal. On the contrary, reducing child maltreatment by 70% in the next fifteen years is the minimum acceptable outcome in responding to this unacceptable (and profoundly costly) harm to our youngest children.”

The cross-party group that I convene is for the prevention and healing of ACEs, and the word “healing” in the title is particularly important. ACEs can be healed with early intervention, attachment, and a holistic approach. For example, instead of saying to a troubled child, “What is wrong with you?” we should say, “What happened to you?”

We know so much more about the cause and effect of ACEs today, largely because of a group of dedicated health professionals. One of those is research scientist Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, who is a passionate advocate of attachment in early years. Dr Zeedyk’s groundbreaking and on-going work has been pivotal to our understanding of ACEs and attachment.

I would also like to mention Pauline Scott, an amazing early years practitioner in my constituency; the late Tina Hendry; Julie Day; lawyers Melissa Rutherford and Ian Smith; and many more people who are adding to our understanding and contributing so much to eliminating ACEs, day in and day out.

I was proud to host an event in Parliament in, I think, 2018 to screen the groundbreaking film documentary “Resilience”, which features the work of pioneering Californian paediatrician Dr Nadine Burke Harris. I whole-heartedly recommend that everyone should watch that inspirational film. Dr Burke Harris examines the science around childhood adversity and toxic stress, revealing the physical changes that happen in the brain when traumatic events occur. She also reveals how we can disrupt the destructive cycle through interventions that retrain the brain and body, foster resilience and help children, families and adults to live healthier, happier lives.

Since I was elected in 2016, much progress has been made on ACEs, not least in public awareness. We are now working towards having a trauma-informed judiciary and trauma-informed law practices, educators and police. In fact, most public service practitioners now understand ACEs and how important being trauma informed is. Indeed, today sees the introduction of sentencing guidelines for young people that mean that trauma will now be formally considered by the judge, which is a huge step forward.

The Scottish Government is also committed to introducing a bairn’s hoose, which is based on the barnahus holistic care system for children in the justice system that has been so successful in Scandinavia. We doubled the child payment and introduced the baby box, the tackling child poverty delivery plan and the Scottish ACEs hub, which aims to encourage action in sectors across Scotland. Those measures are important because we must tackle one of the key drivers of ACEs—poverty—to fight the problem at its root cause.

We must take responsibility for that as legislators. In my motion, I state that 122 MSPs and 513 MPs have signed the WAVE Trust 70/30 campaign pledge. That is a great figure, but we need everyone to sign up. I urge members who have not done so to contact the WAVE Trust directly or email me to say that they want to sign. It is incumbent on all of us to reset the future for disadvantaged children and families to give them a chance of a happier, healthier life. I ask that we work together to bring that about. We have the power, so let us use it to create a fairer, more equal society in which no young person has to grow up blighted by ACEs.

I thank all members who are taking part in the debate and I look forward to everyone’s contribution.

17:21  

I thank Rona Mackay for securing the debate. It is a topic worthy of a Government debate, and I found it difficult to squeeze all my comments into four minutes—I will try my best.

In recent weeks, the impact of adverse childhood experiences has been at the forefront of my mind, as I have been involved in taking evidence in two of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee inquiries. The first, into perinatal mental health, has highlighted the importance of care for new and expectant mothers in not only clinical settings but community settings. The second has been into the health and wellbeing of our young people.

Adverse childhood experiences take many forms, and I will concentrate my speech on the impact of ACEs on care-experienced young people and new parents with care experience. People who are care experienced are most likely to have had the largest proportion of adverse childhood experiences and, as a result, to have the worst health outcomes as adults. As a result of unresolved trauma, they could be in need of particular support as they go into adulthood and potentially become parents themselves.

At an informal session that I attended recently, a care-experienced young parent raised two matters with me. The first was that care-experienced new parents can often be stigmatised by some of the health professionals with whom they come into contact. A young father told us that he felt that assumptions were made about his ability to parent once his experience was disclosed. In that same session, another young parent said that she knows for sure that care-experienced mums can be worried about disclosing their childhood trauma and care experience because they are frightened that it might arouse concern about their own ability to parent and that their child might be at risk of being taken away from them. That might not be the case, but it can certainly be a perception for some. That, in turn, can lead to them not coming forward pre or post-birth if they are having issues with their mental health.

If someone’s experience as a child has been of parental neglect or abuse, becoming a parent might already be quite a triggering experience. That does not say to me that such people cannot become successful parents—far from it. It says to me that, if people who have experienced ACEs do not get trauma-informed care and support not only in childhood but throughout life, particularly when the health and care systems know of their trauma, we are letting them down.

I was particularly impressed by a young woman who pointed to the good work done by Who Cares? Scotland, which, during the pandemic, used emergency Covid response funds given by the Scottish Government to set up a telephone counselling service that could be accessed at any point without any need for referral. For care-experienced young people who are living on their own after having left foster care, for example, isolation can be acute anyway but, during the pandemic, it was doubly so.

That young woman made a good point: we know that care-experienced young people with adverse childhood experiences and no wraparound family support are more likely to carry that trauma into adulthood and that their mental health is at particular risk on leaving care. She said that local authorities know how many young people are leaving care settings every year, and on what date. She made a plea for the Covid counselling service model to be extended beyond the pandemic for care-experienced children and young adults. As ideas go, that is right up there with the best of them.

I am more than pleased to see the emphasis that the Government is putting on delivering the Promise and the many interventions on the causes of childhood trauma, particularly mitigating childhood poverty, which Rona Mackay mentioned. I thank her for her focus on that, because it is fundamental.

I fully support the 70/30 campaign. I thank Rona Mackay again for the opportunity to discuss ACEs and for her continued work with children and young adults.

17:25  

I draw the chamber’s attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which states that I am a councillor on the City of Edinburgh Council. I thank Rona Mackay for bringing the motion to the Parliament and securing this members’ business debate.

As we have heard, the 70/30 campaign is a UK and Ireland-wide network of individuals, organisations and elected representatives working together and committed to reducing child abuse and neglect and other adverse childhood experiences by at least 70 per cent by the year 2030. Although that sounds ambitious, it is necessary, because at least half of children in the UK will suffer ACEs during their childhood. It is fantastic that more than 700 MPs, MSPs, MLAs, AMs, mayors and local councillors, from across all political parties, have signed the 70/30 campaign pledge. I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate to help to continue to raise awareness of the campaign.

Last year, I met Jay Haston, a WAVE Trust ambassador, in my remit as the shadow minister for drugs policy. After meeting him, I was immediately on board with the WAVE Trust ambition to reduce levels of child abuse and neglect by 2030. Each time that I have subsequently met Jay, I have been struck by his resilience and I have seen his commitment and determination to have his children grow up in a family home that is different from his experience. I see his ability to inspire all those around him in his role as a WAVE Trust ambassador, despite all the challenges that he has faced.

In October last year, in my role as an Edinburgh councillor, I submitted a motion to full council entitled “Early Days Prevention of Adverse Childhood Experiences”, in which I called on the City of Edinburgh Council to explore with the WAVE Trust ideas on how to achieve 70/30. I know that there are relevant departments across the council that would have no problem in talking with the WAVE Trust 70/30 campaign for further consultation. In fact, I was heartened to hear of the wide understanding of adverse childhood experiences across our city services, including education, and of the awareness of the impact that ACEs can have not only on children but on adults, and, in turn, on their care of their own children and the decisions that they make.

My conversations with the WAVE Trust make it clear that a preventative approach must be embedded across organisations, and it must involve not just a few select managers or senior leaders but all staff, from janitors and dinner ladies to the senior management. Taking a preventative approach to addressing and combating adverse childhood experiences will have a significant impact on the inequalities that, rightly or wrongly, currently feel so entrenched in our society. It will give every child or young person the very best chance to have a thriving life. We owe that to all our young people, and I share the determination that Gillian Martin has expressed this afternoon with regard to the issues that she raised around children and young people who have been in care. The information that we, as a committee, gathered through those informal sessions was really quite gut wrenching.

It is time to turn all the policy papers, promises and pledges to support the motion in front of us into action. Let us send a shock wave through our society and stop talking and start helping our young people. I welcome the cross-party support for the 70/30 campaign, and I will continue to do all that I can to support the campaign across Scotland.

17:29  

I thank Rona Mackay for bringing this debate to the chamber. I support the WAVE Trust’s campaign to reduce adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, by 70 per cent by 2030.

Before my election, I worked in outdoor education and for a children’s charity, so I know how services can transform children’s lives, but I also know that we can and must prevent ACEs. The impact of child neglect and abuse is often severe and includes developmental issues, disability and poor life outcomes. It is important that we provide the services to mitigate those potential consequences and help children and young people to get the best out of life, but we must look beyond that, too. More than ever, when it comes to child neglect and abuse, prevention is better than cure.

Prevention is at the heart of the 70/30 campaign. For the estimated one in five kids who even today experiences neglect and abuse, we must press on with that work. However, we need to remember that ACEs come in many forms. In fact, seven out of 10 adults in Scotland have experienced at least one ACE. For many people, that might not have a severe impact on their life, but it can depend on the nature of the experience. However, for those who experience four or more ACEs, the impact on adult life can be significant: lower educational attainment, more cardiovascular health problems and poorer mental wellbeing.

There are ACEs that transcend socioeconomics, but, in many cases, poverty is a common factor. There are things that too many people take for granted, such as buying new clothes for their kids when they need them and not having to choose between heating their home and eating. If we add to that the link between socioeconomics and mental health problems, addiction and early deaths, the effects of poverty on children become clearer.

There has been a lot of progress in Scotland in recent years, but we must continue work to eradicate poverty and deliver supportive services. The delivery of 1,140 hours of childcare is transformational. It gives children better opportunities to learn, play and build their confidence. It can help parents back into work and increase family resilience by improving the wellbeing of children and parents. The Scottish Government’s new Scottish child payment is, in the words of campaigners, a game changer in tackling poverty. I was also glad to see the recent announcement on the Scottish Government’s £500 million family wellbeing fund, which will play an important preventative role by helping families before they reach crisis point and will ensure that children get the support and compassion that they deserve.

However, while the Scottish Government undertakes that work to reduce poverty and help children to live safe, healthy and active lives, the UK Government has cut universal credit and is doing nothing to tackle the cost of living crisis. Let us continue the work to reduce ACEs, get it right for every child and ensure that, no matter their background, children can grow up happily in a safe, loving environment and have the opportunity to reach their potential.

17:33  

I thank Rona Mackay for bringing the debate to the chamber; it is on a matter that is close to my heart. In my previous job as a teacher, I gained first-hand experience of working with children who had, sadly, suffered from great abuse or violence or had fallen mercy to the impacts of parental drug and/or alcohol misuse, to name but a few harmful experiences. For such children, early intervention and noticing trauma and neglect are crucial. Taking the time to have gentle conversations and provide opportunities for expression—whether verbally or through play, music or art—can be the first step in getting the child the support that they need.

Like other members, I have been honoured to meet Jay Haston, an ambassador for the WAVE Trust. I met him only last week and have his permission to share some of his story. In his early childhood, Jay was caught up in domestic violence and was sexually abused. He attended five different schools, was unable to concentrate and often displayed erratic and unpredictable behaviours. Jay was, by his own admission, manipulative and controlling. Those factors made establishing and maintaining relationships difficult, which was further compounded by anxiety and depression. He clearly displayed the signs of ACEs. Later, Jay became involved in crime and eventually attempted suicide. However, by the age of 37, he was finally able to make the massive step of reaching out for help.

The lived experience of Jay’s story demonstrates acutely the devastating impact of ACEs and the trauma that impacts on life chances, but it also highlights that hope exists for those who receive the right kind of support. A few years on, Jay now feels an immense sense of purpose and, although his experiences will stay with him, he is able to share his journey of recovery with others and instil in them the notion that help is always an option.

I whole-heartedly welcome the Scottish Government’s ambitions to create a more compassionate, trauma-informed and trauma-responsive approach, with a focus on early intervention. In 2011, the Christie commission reported on the future delivery of public services, and estimated that 40 to 45 per cent of public spending in Scotland is focused on dealing with symptoms rather than root causes. Therefore, I welcome the Government’s commitment to universal health visiting services, the roll-out of family nurse partnerships and investment in perinatal and infant mental health.

I know that ACEs awareness training is being delivered, because I have undertaken that training myself, but I would welcome further roll-out to all adults who are in contact with children and who therefore are in a prime position to notice behaviours that might be indicative of a wider struggle in that child’s life.

Whether we are teachers, jannies, dinner staff, police officers or national health service workers, we all have a sense of duty to the young people around us to take the time to see and hear what the child is trying to communicate and to respond in a way that prevents further harm and supports recovery. I welcome the development of the bairn’s hoose approach, as part of the child protection improvement programme.

Although the task of reducing adverse childhood experiences by 70 per cent by 2030 might sound daunting, I am optimistic that we can achieve it and that we can make Scotland the best country in the world for children to grow up in.

17:37  

I thank Rona Mackay for bringing the debate to the chamber.

The impact of adverse childhood experiences on individuals’ lives can be scarring, devastating and long lasting. Memories of childhood often stay with us, but, for many, those memories are not ones to look back on fondly.

As we have heard from others in the debate, poverty, abuse, neglect and other ACEs cause significant mental and physical difficulty for people in our country and they can also impact on an individual’s personal development.

However, in understanding more about ACEs, it is important to note that research conducted across the UK tells us that adverse childhood experiences are more likely to be experienced in areas of high deprivation. That highlights yet another devastating health inequality in our country, which needs to be addressed with purpose.

Moreover, as outlined by Public Health Scotland, an ACE survey of adults in Wales found that, compared to people with no ACEs, those with four or more ACEs—as has been mentioned—are more likely to have been in prison, develop heart disease, frequently visit their general practitioner, develop type 2 diabetes, have committed violence in the past 12 months or have other health-harming behaviours.

That is deeply concerning to us all, and I consider it important that the Scottish Government conducts a similar ACE survey with adults in Scotland to ascertain whether the impacts are similar, given that Public Health Scotland has advised that there could be a similar prevalence in the Scottish population.

However, we have to be absolutely clear that ACEs should not define an individual’s life or stop them from being successful or content. It is crucial that support is in place for children, young adults and adults to come forward and talk about their experiences. There can be no room for stigma in those discussions, and it is important that such support is accessible, free and comfortable for those who come forward.

The fact that adverse childhood experiences occur for children during a period of innocence and the unknown makes the impact that bit more significant. That is why I fully support calls from the 70/30 campaign to reduce incidence of adverse childhood experiences by at least 70 per cent by 2030, as we have all agreed in the chamber tonight.

That is not only an achievable target but a necessary one. It is one that we must meet if we are to be proactive and deliver for those who have experienced such events. We must invest more in early years. We must place more focus on addressing health inequalities. We must conduct research and analyse data to ensure that there is the most up-to-date information, where it does not exist already, to allow us to take actions that are underpinned by solid evidence.

In this chamber, I regularly call on the Scottish Government to do more to eradicate poverty. I do so because failure to act equates to a failure to stand up for those who, for whatever reason, struggle in life and need us to stand up for them in modern society. Adverse childhood experiences link closely to poverty and inequality. Therefore, to be effective in our endeavours, we must address the root causes. Doing so allows us to support those who are growing up in the most deprived areas today, and it allows us to hope that we can reduce the number of people who have an adverse childhood experience in the future.

The debate is important because it reaffirms the view of us all in the chamber—I have heard this from every speaker, and it is a matter that we all care about—that we must discuss this issue and address it. By working together, we can progress. My hope for the future is that no child will suffer adverse childhood experiences and that they will all grow up happy and content in their lives. We, as parliamentarians, can help that to happen.

17:41  

I thank my colleague Rona Mackay for securing this debate on such an important issue. I also draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am a serving councillor on West Dunbartonshire Council.

Everyone in this chamber and across the country has likely had at least one adverse childhood experience in their life. Those experiences are wide ranging and can include family bereavement, neglect and child abuse. ACEs are associated with poor health outcomes in the widest context. Research has indicated that they include injuries, death during childhood, premature mortality, suicide, disease, mental illness and poverty.

However, negative outcomes due to ACEs are not inevitable. Without hesitation, I signed the 70/30 motion on behalf of the residents of Clydebank and Milngavie. I represent an area that takes in part of West Dunbartonshire, which has above-average economic challenges that impact negatively on health and employment. Residents I have spoken to and visited, and people in organisations such as the excellent Alternatives project, have highlighted how their own ACEs have negatively impacted on their lives in adulthood and likely contributed to the statistics that currently reflect West Dunbartonshire. It was only when previous deep-rooted childhood experiences were brought to light that those affected could access local services and were able to move on and support others to share their stories.

With research showing a link between ACEs and the risk of experiencing a wide range of physical and mental conditions, which contribute to the issues that are faced in West Dunbartonshire, it is not surprising that the local authority is addressing the issue as a priority. The efforts of staff and volunteers need to be highlighted and commended, and I do so without hesitation today.

West Dunbartonshire Council was the first local authority to sign up to the 70/30 pledge. To promote the development of support to address the impact of ACEs, staff at West Dunbartonshire health and social care partnership organised screenings of the film “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope”. The aim of the screenings was to develop approaches in West Dunbartonshire for developing nurturing relationships and peer support to address the toxicity of ACEs.

That led to a learning and engagement event on nurturing individuals and building resilient communities, which resulted from a collaboration between Clydebank high school, the West Dunbartonshire learning festival and the HSCP. The event was attended by 300 participants and culminated in the relaunch of the West Dunbartonshire ACEs hub, transforming it into the resilience hub.

The hub is dynamic in its actions. It is increasing awareness of ACEs and sharing information among people who work in West Dunbartonshire, including on changes to the national and local strategic context. It uses new research, new resources, video clips, training opportunities and local events. It enables networking and shares organisational news and information about access to services and referral pathways. That positive approach is sharing good work practice and information about what works, and it has stimulated additional action among individuals and organisations. The hub has 412 members, and it provides a significant opportunity to develop the approach to supporting those who are affected by adverse childhood experiences and poverty.

We would all agree that that is tremendous work by professional staff and volunteers in my constituency. The aim of the WAVE Trust’s 70/30 campaign is to eradicate poverty and reduce child abuse, neglect and other ACEs by at least 70 per cent by 2030. If all other areas across Scotland can replicate the work done in my constituency, working together to share ideas and good practice, our country will be well on the way to eradicating poverty, child abuse and ACEs by 2030.

17:45  

I thank Rona Mackay for bringing the debate to the chamber. She has been a mentor to me in Parliament and I know that she cares very much about the campaign and about the cross-party group on ACEs, of which I am grateful to be a part.

One of the first organisations that I wanted to meet after I was elected was the WAVE Trust, because I am a parent and because adverse childhood experiences have been a part of my life. Like many who have experienced those circumstances, I had never reached out to any organisation. We try to muddle on and leave the past behind, often not disclosing those past experiences, because we are trying to shut them out and are unaware of how they can eventually catch up with us.

The WAVE Trust has 24 years’ experience of researching and working in the field of trauma. It has delivered training and workshops on adverse childhood experiences across the UK. I support and empathise with the aim of WAVE’s national council. WAVE has created a united voice of lived experiences. Survivors of abuse and neglect, like me, can become powerful change makers in society, coming together to tackle the negative impacts of childhood adversity and working to create a culture focused on the prevention and healing of ACEs.

As a result of my ACEs, I have been on a journey that has led me here, wobbly legs and all. The instability of my legs is caused by adrenaline regulation issues. They are a flight or fight response. Even when I assume that my mind has forgotten, my body remembers. It tries to protect me when there is a sense of anticipation or a slight increase in my heart rate.

As many in the chamber know, I recently tried to speak up on the importance of acknowledging that abusers can and do walk among us. They are often people we know and trust, at least until the mask is taken off. I was subjected to horrific abuse and death threats for saying that. I take the opportunity to thank everyone, from all parties, who filled my inbox with notes of love and solidarity from Parliament and beyond.

That incident pushed me to explain myself. I opened up, albeit with my arm twisted behind my back. Many survivors of childhood abuse have since reached out to me, feeling empowered by my revelation of my ACE. It was in the midst of that that I realised that having a community and support after all these years was incredibly important. The shame is not mine to bear.

Rona Mackay’s motion is rightly a matter for cross-party action and attention. Preventing ACEs means tackling the issue from all sides. I agree with my colleague, the cabinet secretary Mairi Gougeon, who once said:

“This is not just a health issue and it is not just an education issue. It is about health, education, social work, justice, welfare and many other elements all working together to challenge the myriad issues that children face.”—[Official Report, 24 January 2018; c 105.]

The effects that abuse and neglect have on children must never be far from our agenda or our thinking. They never leave those of us who have suffered. They impact us at the time and into our future. I support the WAVE Trust’s campaign to reduce the number of children who suffer abuse and neglect by 70 per cent by 2030 and to take a holistic and far-reaching approach to the causes of abuse and how we go about tackling it.

The campaign on violence against women is finally focusing on perpetrators, holding men to account and telling them, “Don’t be that guy.” In the same way, and while supporting our survivors, we must take a firm stance and shine not just a bright light but a blazing sun on those who neglect and abuse our children.

We cannot continue to fight fires without looking at the source. That means ensuring an education system that teaches boundaries and what inappropriate relationships are, provides an easy route for children to speak up, and a clear path and support for them to be heard and believed. It also means those in positions of authority being able to support those signs early. We cannot let the burden of duty fall on those who have been abused; we must all bear that burden and share it. I thank the WAVE Trust for doing just that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you very much, indeed, Ms Adam, and thank you for sharing that experience.

17:50  

I thank Rona Mackay for securing the debate. Like a few others, I had the pleasure of meeting Jay Haston a few months back. I hope that he is watching the debate tonight. As Kaukab Stewart said, he is very open about his experiences and how he changed his life. Jay, if you are watching this, you are inspirational, and what you have been talking about has really opened up the topic and allowed us to have this debate. Thank you for that.

The 70/30 campaign pledges to create a better future for everyone with ACEs. Working with those with adverse childhood experiences must be seen in the wider context of tackling societal inequalities. I thank the 70/30 campaign for its work on reducing child abuse, neglect and other adverse childhood experiences. There is more of a risk of experiencing ACEs in areas of higher deprivation. In East Lothian, almost a quarter of children live in poverty.

I commend the Scottish Government for implementing policies such as increasing the Scottish child payment. However, there is much to do to reach the target of reducing ACEs by 70 per cent by 2030. When children are exposed to adverse and stressful experiences, it can have a long-lasting impact on their ability to think and interact with others, and on their learning. However, much can be done to offer hope and build resilience in children, young people and adults who have experienced adversity in early life. It is crucial to note that people with high numbers of ACEs in their childhood often have strong resilience and are able to lead fulfilled lives. Protective factors in children’s lives can mitigate many of the adverse effects of those experiences.

There is increasing evidence that children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing can be supported even in times of adversity by their having a trusted adult in their life. Jay talked about that when we had a discussion a few months back. It may be someone in their family, school or community, and it can make a difference to how young people cope with the adverse experiences that happen to them.

As has been touched on, the Scottish Government has a vision to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up in. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 enshrines the actions that are required to support the wellbeing of Scotland’s children and young people. It builds on GIRFEC, which is the Scottish Government’s national approach to improving outcomes for and supporting the wellbeing of children and young families.

The £500 million whole family wellbeing fund, with its aim of investing 5 per cent of community-based health and social care spend in preventative whole-family support, is very welcome. Locally in East Lothian, policies on care-experienced young people, the carers strategy, the young carers strategy, positive destinations, links with Edinburgh College and Queen Margaret University and child protection policies are examples of the development of the approach to supporting those with ACEs.

East Lothian has a four-pronged approach. There is pathway support, working with third sector organisations and key stakeholders to assess support needs and increase key points of support. There is increasing training capacity and network building—which we have touched on in relation to mental health training and school-based nurture work—and the creation of a practitioner network. There is also ensuring that data is being well used, so that young people are being listened to regularly, and that data is being gathered from CAMHS, the third sector and support pathways, alongside the multiagency trial to show the impact of the multiagency input. It is also about building resilience in individuals and communities, raising ACE awareness, increasing training for practitioners and implementing the place of kindness initiative.

I look forward to working with the 70/30 campaign and the Scottish Government to achieve the goals of the 70/30 campaign. For my constituents in East Lothian and for those across Scotland, that will allow us to continue our work to tackle child poverty and ensure that children grow up in a safer and more equal Scotland.

I note that I should have referred members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am a serving councillor in East Lothian.

17:53  

I add my thanks to Rona Mackay for bringing the motion to the chamber. I also thank all those who have spoken in the debate for their important contributions. There were many considered contributions from across the parties about the impact of poverty and the need for a compassionate and trauma-informed approach. However, I am sure that we would all agree that the most powerful contribution was that from my colleague Karen Adam, who shared her personal experience, which was very moving to hear. I congratulate her on her bravery in being able to do that.

I whole-heartedly share the ambitions of the WAVE Trust’s campaign, and I am extremely grateful for the strength of the cross-party input to the debate. I thank the WAVE Trust and the many third sector organisations and public services that work tirelessly to campaign for and support children and young people. In particular, I thank all the children and young people—and adults—who have bravely shared their personal experiences of the impact of adverse and traumatic childhood experiences. Without a doubt, that has led to an increased understanding of ACEs and action to tackle them.

We have declared a national mission to tackle child poverty, calling on the whole of society to work with us to drive change. The Scottish Government is doing all that it can within our devolved powers to help families who are impacted by the pandemic and by the current cost-of-living crisis. We have repeatedly called on the UK Government to make fundamental changes to universal credit and to reinstate the £20 uplift that was made to it during the pandemic, in order to make it a proper safety net and to help struggling families.

In the year ahead, we are making £197 million available to support the doubling of the Scottish child payment to £20 per child per week, from April. That will immediately benefit 111,000 children under the age of six. Ahead of the full roll-out of the payment to all eligible children under the age of 16, we are also continuing to deliver bridging payments—which, this year, are worth £520—for as many school-age children as possible. In addition, we are investing in the expansion of early learning and childcare, free school meals and grants for school clothing, and we are increasing access to good-quality, affordable homes.

Those actions are crucial to addressing ACEs overall. We know that experiencing poverty and inequality increases the risk of other adverse experiences and that it impacts on people’s capacity to overcome such experiences.

Preventing and responding early to adversity and trauma are central to our long-standing national approach of getting it right for every child—GIRFEC. That multi-agency approach is currently being updated and refreshed, building on the valuable experience of practitioners and professionals across Scotland.

We continue to invest in our enhanced health visitor home visiting programme and the family nurse partnership programme, providing innovative support for first-time mums and their newborns. We have also invested more than £16 million in perinatal and infant mental health, as well as £16 million a year in secondary school access to counselling support.

Our £500 million whole family wellbeing funding will run over the course of this parliamentary session. The current priority is to work with partners to develop and test proposals for the initial £50 million spend. That will start from April. Quality holistic whole-family support is central to the wide-ranging actions that we are progressing to meet our commitment of implementing the promise by 2030.

As members know, the Scottish Government is committed to giving children’s rights the highest possible protection in Scotland. By incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we will be providing children with positive, nurturing experiences and ensuring that their safety and protection are enshrined in law. The UNCRC requires a clear and unified approach to protecting children from all forms of neglect, abuse, exploitation and violence, as well as to supporting parents, families and carers. Scotland’s approach is consistent with that principle. It is rooted in accessible and responsive universal services and in a holistic, proportionate approach to statutory intervention, while acknowledging that third sector expertise will often be key to reducing risk without stigmatising families.

That shift is made in the revised national guidance for child protection in Scotland, which we published in September last year. It integrates child protection with the GIRFEC approach, recognising that all children must receive the right help at the right time. Through the work of our national implementation group, local child protection committees and practitioners across services, we are working to ensure that robust child protection procedures are in place wherever there is a likelihood or a risk of a child coming to harm.

We are also taking action to help children who are affected by domestic abuse and by harmful parental alcohol or drug use, and we are currently creating a national bairn’s hoose model to provide a child-centred approach to delivering justice, care and recovery for children who have experienced trauma.

Before I end, I will briefly highlight the ground-breaking work of our national trauma training programme, which progresses the joint ambition of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government to develop trauma-informed workforces and services across Scotland. It supports workforces in understanding the impact of ACEs and trauma and in responding in ways that support people’s recovery and prevent retraumatisation. I have seen the difference that can be made to the lives of children and young people by dedicated, compassionate practitioners who work in such trauma-informed ways, which foster safety, trust and collaboration.

The Scottish Government has also committed to developing during 2022 a national strategy on trauma and adverse childhood experiences. That will build on the types of cross-portfolio actions that I have outlined and will further support the local and national embedding of trauma-informed approaches.

Again, I thank Rona Mackay and all the members who have contributed to what has been an important debate, as well as all those who are working so hard to give children and young people across Scotland the best start. The Scottish Government is firmly committed to tackling child poverty and adverse childhood experiences, and I will continue to do all that I can, working in partnership, to ensure that children grow up safe, loved and respected, so that they can all reach their full potential.

Meeting closed at 18:01.