Abuse, Loss, Trauma, Attachment and Resilience (IncludED conference)

19 February 2019

Big Change attended The Difference’s first IncludED conference in January, at which they formally launched their teacher training programme in exclusions risk reduction.

A number of insightful sessions were held throughout the day, and we’re bringing you learnings from each. Read the first on Factors Increasing Exclusion Risk here and an overview of the conference here.

The second instalment in this blog series focuses on:

  • Abuse, Loss, Trauma, Attachment and Resilience (ALTAR)

This session was run by Dr Alex Chard, formerly of the University of Bedfordshire, and now an Associate at the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice. Dr Chard is a systemic organisational consultant, academic and author, who pioneered research into abuse, loss, trauma, attachment and resilience, and coined the term ‘ALTAR’ to describe it.

The session shed light on the effects of ALTAR on young people’s cognitive development which revealed some sobering information.

Abuse and the Brain

It is not surprising that abuse alters children’s brains, however we were very interested to learn that neuroplasticity can help a child’s brain recover.

Children’s brains go through a second phase of neuroplasticity at age 14, at which point it’s possible to undo some of the cognitive damage caused by abuse.

Abuse and Resilience

80% of those who have suffered abuse as children do not grow up to have ‘normal’ attachment patterns. This can lead to a state called ‘disorganised attachment’, which correlates highly with psychopathy.

Resilience is key to recovery, but this requires stability and a significant adult who cares and is consistent – something which The Difference program will develop in schools.

Bereavement Exclusion Risk

30% of children in PRUs (pupil referral units) have been through serious bereavement; proving that it is often the most vulnerable children who are at highest risk of exclusion. The effects of bereavement trauma on children is therefore, especially important to The Difference and their work.

Dr Chard, leading the session, explained the theory of latent vulnerability, which refers to children who have been traumatised when are very young risk being re-traumatised in adolescence. So, we need to have an education system equipped to support these children to stay and thrive in mainstream education.

ADHD and Trauma

Symptoms that are associated with ADHD can sometimes be symptoms of trauma, leading many children and young people to be misdiagnosed and therefore miss out on appropriate support.

In order to help children recover from abuse and trauma, the potential for risk and for harm has to be understood within the context of their lived experience.

Our current assessments do not allow for this. But, through The Difference’s programme, teachers learn the tools needed to understand this surrounding lived experience and manage risk factors within school.

Further reading: Interesting research on neuroplasticity released by UNICEF ‘The Adolescent Brain: A Second Opportunity