Making Bristol an ACE Aware City

Today’s guest blog comes from Cllr Helen Godwin, my Cabinet Lead for Women, Children and Families.

Addressing the ACEs Bristol Conference on 17 January

I wanted to take this opportunity to write about an important journey we are embarking on as a city, which I see as being key to our administration’s aim of ensuring that Bristol is a city in which nobody is left behind. Last month, we held the first ever Bristol Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Conference at We the Curious, alongside our partners at the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and Avon and Somerset Constabulary. Over 450 delegates attended the conference from across the public, private and third sectors. ACEs are negative experiences in early life and childhood that can have an impact on health and well-being throughout life. There is no universally agreed definition of an adverse childhood experience, but studies addressing the issue have mostly converged on a similar set of experiences:

  • direct harms: physical, emotional or verbal abuse and physical or emotional neglect
  • indirect harms (‘household challenges’): domestic violence, parental drug/alcohol misuse, parental criminal behaviour/ incarceration, parental mental illness and bereavement (linked to death or separation).

The draft ACEs vision statement circulated at the conference

Research has shown that stressful experiences during childhood have a significant impact on a person’s life chances, both in terms of physical and mental health, as well as social outcomes. In short, paying attention to people’s ACEs is about asking “what has happened?” rather than “what is wrong?”.

The conference was an important opportunity to collectively set out the first steps we are taking as a city to achieve the following goals set out in the One City Plan: By 2050, everyone in Bristol will have the opportunity to live a life in which they are mentally and physically healthy. Children will grow up free of adverse childhood experiences, having had the best start in life and support through the life course. These are clearly ambitious goals, but I believe that we can achieve them by bringing our collective expertise together as a city.

ACEs are not inevitable, and nor is it inevitable that the people who experience multiple ACEs will not go on to do well in life with the right support. This is why our citywide commitment to tackling the cycle of ACEs across generations focuses not just on prevention, but on how we can help enable those who have experienced them to flourish, and to prevent them from happening to their own children. Some of our partners are already paving the way in their adoption of ACE aware approaches, including Family Nurse Partnership, which works with young parents to improve the future health and well-being of their children, as well as support parents in planning for their future.

The Mayor addressing the conference

In Bristol, being ACE aware is not about a set of new interventions or the use of checklists to guide the support offered to specific people. Rather, it is a commitment to developing a holistic ACE approach across the city, with a focus on recognition, prevention and early intervention and the cultural change that may be needed to support that. It is also about ensuring that communities are empowered to solve problems and find long term solutions through their understanding of the impact of ACEs. The evidence shows us that preventing ACEs can reduce health harming behaviours, as well as reducing, for example, unplanned teenage pregnancies, binge drinking, violence perpetration and incarceration. As well as increasing people’s health and wellbeing, there are economic benefits to an ACE informed approach through increased employment levels and reduction in the involvement of the health, social care and criminal justice systems. We have a long way to go, but I believe that, in the spirit of the One City Approach, by working together we can break the cycle of ACEs and ensure that everyone in the city has the opportunity to flourish in life.

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