The Holyrood baby needs a focus on prevention of adverse childhood experiences

Written by John Carnochan OBE QPM on 26 May 2016 in Comment

John Carnochan OBE QPM on the the need to prevent adverse childhood experiences that can have a lifelong impact

Imagine if in Scotland we could reduce our inequalities in health and wellbeing, what would that Scotland look like?

It would be a country where fewer people smoked, fewer people used heroin, there would be less binge drinking, less violence and there would be fewer people in our prisons. All good.

This also means that there would be less demand on public services, and the Christie Commission report in 2011 spoke of the need for public service organisations to prioritise preventative measures to reduce demand and lessen inequalities, so that's good too.


Her chances, your choices - Introducing Kirsty, the Holyrood baby

Creating a Scotland where all people are born equal means confronting some harsh truths

Life chances are often shaped even before we are born

I was a police officer for almost 39 years and most of that time I was working as a detective investigating serious crime.

I learned that the most effective way to solve a murder was to follow the evidence, step by step, to understand what we know and respond using that knowledge to the next step and achieve our purpose, solve the murder.

In Scotland we have an excellent and enviable detection rate for murder.

That same evidence-led methodology applies equally to prevention; understand what we know and respond using that knowledge to achieve our purpose.

Our purpose today is to ensure a better future for baby Kirsty.

We know that adverse childhood experiences or ACEs, have a significant and lasting negative impact on our life course.

ACEs include being the victim of physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, parental separation, emotional neglect and emotional abuse or living with an alcoholic or drug abuser or having a parent in prison.

A child who is the victim of any of these ACEs will be significantly disadvantaged throughout their life.

A recent ACE study in Wales concluded that a child experiencing four or more ACEs compared to a child experiencing none was:

  • 2 x more likely to binge drink
  • 3 x more likely to be a current smoker
  • 5 x more likely to have sex under 16 years
  • 7 x times more likely to be involved in recent violence
  • 11 x times more likely to have used heroin or crack cocaine
  • 11 x more likely to have been incarcerated 

We must consider all our public policy within the context of prevention and develop our strategic planning through the lens of adverse childhood experiences and if we do this, we won’t have to imagine a Scotland that is less unequal, it will be a reality.

I realise there is a fine line between vision and hallucination, but this is a vision founded on evidence. It can be made real. Follow the evidence, Kirsty deserves it.

John Carnochan OBE QPM is the retired director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit



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