Leading experts speaking at the first cross border Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) conference highlighted that children who have been exposed to situations such as domestic violence, alcohol/drug abuse, mental illness and bereavement can experience negative impacts which last well into adulthood. Such impacts can include poorer educational achievements, employment status and health and well-being.
The 650 plus attendees at the event were informed that ACEs are more commonplace than we think and that many of us will have experienced at least one ACE in our childhood.
Attendees included people from health and social care services, education, policing, justice, community and voluntary sectors from across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The high turnout demonstrates the strong interest in learning more about the potential negative impact of ACEs on children, young people and adults and how organisations, communities and families can be more ACE aware and pro-active. The remarkable accounts from three young people who provided personal testimonies on how they overcome adversity and difficulties in their lives was one of the conference highlights.
As part of the conference held in the Millennium Forum in Derry City, a three year, €5.01 million EU INTERREG VA funded cross-border project was launched. The CAWT Multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (MACE) Project secured the EU funding from the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). This EU funding will be used to help transform the lives of vulnerable families who are at risk from multiple adversities in their lives, through identification, early intervention and the provision of support within their communities.
The CAWT (Co-operation and Working Together) Partnership which secured the funding comprises the HSE, the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, the Western Health and Social Care Trust, the Public Health Agency and the Health and Social Care Board. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency is also a MACE project partner.
The project will establish five cross border community networks to deliver tailored interventions to identified families and will build upon existing community infrastructure and supports on both sides of the border. The five network areas are Derry/Letterkenny & Inishowen, Strabane/West Donegal, Fermanagh/Sligo & Leitrim, Armagh/Monaghan & Cavan; and Newry/ Louth.
Jim Gibson, Chief Operations Officer, Tusla outlined his support for and importance of the project. He said, “The MACE project very much aligns with Tusla’s policy context, vision, mission and strategies – and really provides us with the opportunity to engage in innovative practice whilst also deepening our partnership with the HSE and making new partnerships on a cross border basis. We acknowledge the EU INTERREG VA funding and are grateful for the opportunity to support the implementation of the project and to bring the learning from its implementation forward to inform the work of our whole organisation into the future”
Also commenting, Éimear Fisher, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Children and Youth Affairs said, “Prevention and early intervention are critical to the reduction of trauma in the lives of vulnerable children. This EU-funded programme, which crosses many sectors, is a strong step in the identification of and support for such children and their families. By working together in structured multi-agency projects, we can provide valuable interventions to address difficulties and improve the well-being of those who have had adverse childhood experiences.”
Commenting on the significant EU investment, Director General of the CAWT Partnership, Damien McCallion from the HSE said: “The cross border MACE project is aligned closely to current policy and practice aimed at reducing the impact of multiple negative experiences or ACEs in childhood. The CAWT partners, and Tusla as a project partner, will be utilising this considerable EU investment to implement practical supports and programmes which directly benefit families and communities in the border region. ”
Welcoming the project Gina McIntyre, CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body said: “Adversity and hardship can occur in any family at any time, however some families are more vulnerable than others due to a combination of circumstances. This project will deliver upon one of the key objectives of the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, which seeks to improve the health and well-being of thousands of citizens living in this region, by helping to identify vulnerable families who will benefit from early parenting and family development assistance. This support is designed to nurture families and ensure the best outcomes for the children involved, on a cross-border basis.”
Speakers at the conference included Trevor Spratt, Professor in Childhood Research, Trinity College, Dublin, Pamela Cooper, Regional Implementation Manager at TUSLA and Dr Karen Treisman, a renowned clinical psychologist and author.
Match-funding for the project has been provided by both Departments of Health in Ireland.