ACEs and Trauma Recovery

Together member: Children 1st

UNCRC Article 39 (right to recovery from trauma)

Children who have experienced neglect or abuse must receive special support to help them recover their health, dignity, self-respect and social life.


“Early intervention and prevention of escalation builds resilience and provides support before crisis happens or deepens. Children say that when a family needs help it needs to be provided then, not after a long wait, and not after a problem becomes a crisis.”

‘What Kind of Scotland?’ (Page 26, Children’s Parliament)


Children 1st is an organisation that works with children and families, to prevent and protect them from trauma and support them to recover from trauma. Children 1st services support children and their families individually and work with them to uphold their rights by influencing local and national policy. Many families that work alongside Children 1st are experiencing challenges.

Unresolved trauma resulting from experiencing adversity as a child is the one of the biggest health and social care issues affecting children and families in Scotland today.  In 1998, research highlighted what many professionals working with children and families, and many children and families themselves know: what happens to you in childhood has an impact on you in later life. The study found that experiencing multiple or severe traumatic events in childhood, such as abuse, neglect, living with household members who use substances, having a parent in prison or domestic abuse, dramatically increased the odds of suffering mental and physical ill-health as an adult. In this way, trauma in childhood can impact on very many of children’s human rights, including:

  • Article 19, the right to protection from violence.
  • Article 24, the right to health: The link between ACEs and a variety of mental and physical health difficulties in adulthood is well established. There is a strong association between childhood experiences of early neglect and trauma (sexual, physical and emotional abuse or witnessing domestic violence) and mental health difficulties in childhood, during adolescence and early adulthood. These include behavioural difficulties, anxiety, depression, risk taking behaviours, eating disorders, self-harm and suicidal behaviour, OCD and PTSD.
  • Article 28, the right to education: children who have experienced abuse and trauma often perform more poorly at school than their peers. A child living with fear and helplessness from experiences outside school may find it hard to focus or learn at the same pace as other children. These additional challenges can make arriving at school well-rested, fed, dressed and able to concentrate particularly difficult.
  • Article 34, the right to protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
  • Article 39, the right to recovery and reintegration from trauma.

“You don’t have anyone around you that makes you feel better about yourself or supports you in the way that a family should, so you constantly feel isolated and like the whole world is just waiting for you to fail again… The worst thing we can do for a child growing up the way I did is to leave them in that situation or remove them from it without any help and expect that to mean that the rest of their life will be fine.”

(Survivor of child abuse now supported by Children 1st.)


All children have a right to be emotionally healthy and resilient and to early support, so that wherever possible, children can live safely within their family. Helping parents to recover from the unresolved trauma of their own childhood is also vital. This help keep children safer, families stronger and builds healthy, supportive communities, halting the cycle of intergenerational trauma.

Several reports have identified a lack of support for children and families, including a lack of sexual abuse recovery services, and a complex and fragmented system of mental health services which can make it difficult for children to get the support they need. There is an urgent need for a strategic and sustainable expansion of trauma-sensitive family support models. Most recently, Scottish Government commissioned NHS Education Scotland to produce a trauma-informed workforce framework as a way of promoting trauma-sensitive approaches in their work.

Research by NSPCC into the provision of recovery services for sexual abuse survivors in the West of Scotland found that amongst the 39 services available in the area, the average capacity across specialist services was equivalent to one and a half full time equivalent therapeutic members of staff. This results in demand outstripping capacity with many children having to wait to access support.

There is currently no clear picture of recovery services for trauma survivors across Scotland. Anecdotal evidence and reports from Together’s members suggest that services are not consistently available and are lacking in several areas.

In 2018, Scottish Government committed to invest in tackling ACEs, including support for parents and child victims of domestic abuse. Incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots Law will ensure that trauma and ACES are better identified as a rights issue. In this way, all levels of government will need to ensure that prevention of trauma is given full priority and that right-based recovery services are available that are responsive and appropriate for every affected child, young person and their families.

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