World Children’s Day: raising awareness on Aces
World Children’s Day is celebrated annually on November 20. This was the date in 1959 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. On the same day in 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The intention of this important day is to highlight the need to improve the welfare of children around the world and to promote the rights of children.
World Children’s Day is broad in scope and targets the needs of many countries and nations in which children remain impoverished. However, it is important that Bermuda’s social service, medical and mental health professionals, parents, educators, government leaders, community advocates, and young people all play an active role in ensuring that World Children’s Day is regarded as relevant in the Bermuda community.
Many of us do not talk about the Pandora’s box of our childhood. We try to put the past behind us and play down the unpleasant memories from our past and/or family drama as just “old baggage” that we laugh about and then attempt to ignore.
However, more than two decades of scientific research has shown us that adverse childhood experiences, or Aces, change people in profound ways that can continue well into adulthood. Although we may laugh and ignore, Aces and their lasting effects continue to impact our lives — often without our conscious awareness.
Especially from the Bermuda perspective, it is crucial that we do all we can to raise awareness about the long-term dangers of Aces, recognising children are our most valuable asset. The study and research of Aces is an emerging field that focuses on children who have faced or endured traumatic experiences and toxic stress in the form of abuse, neglect, violence, divorce and other family dysfunctions, death of a family member, bullying, racial trauma, and other external or even environmental factors that affected their lives.
Medical and social science research shows that these types of childhood misfortunes can literally alter the development of a child’s brain, negatively impact a child’s developmental progress and, ultimately, affect a child’s entire life both physically and mentally.
The authors completed their first Aces study in 2020. This study mirrors an earlier international study that included ten categories of Aces, but with an additional three that are unique to Bermuda. The biggest takeaway from the Bermudian-based study is that mental health is a foundational part of not only our personal health, but also the health of the community.
We are beginning to better understand that our mental health needs to be continuously addressed, just as we do for our physical health. The coronavirus pandemic has focused a spotlight on the need to have regular mental-health checks and care, as well as the need to maintain our personal health and safety.
While children in our community and around the world may not be the “face” of the coronavirus, they are at increased risk of becoming its hidden victims. The global increase in violence is a disturbing indicator that many young people aged 18 and under have experienced some form of early-life trauma in any of the many forms of violence during the continuing pandemic. We need to ensure that World Children’s Day serves as a reminder of our common responsibility to protect the rights and wellbeing of all children, especially the children in our own communities.
The Family Centre team are family-focused and dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of children and families who have been impacted by trauma, by Aces, through continued counselling and community outreach programmes tailored to their needs. In addition, through Family Centre’s parenting groups and advocacy efforts, they continue to bring attention to and awareness of Aces, as well as provide supportive strategies to counter the destructive effects of Aces, despite the limitations brought on by Covid-19.
We are grateful and proud to have been a small part of helping to improve life for our children in the Bermuda community and look forward to our continued engagement — together. Happy World Children’s Day!
Family Centre has plans to share the Aces study with the Bermuda community during the upcoming months. For more information, please check www.tfc.bm to learn more about Adverse Childhood Experiences or call 232-1116.
• Stephanie Guthman PhD, is the former Director of Specialised Training and Assessment at Family Centre. Tara Hines is a project associate in data analytics and outcomes research at the Bermuda Health Council