While Christmas is a happy time for many, the trauma suffered by some children in Scotland this festive period could scar their whole lives. From parents abusing alcohol and drugs, through to domestic violence and neglect - across the whole country children are at risk. But the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU) believe families and communities have the power to stop the cycle of trauma.
We now know the long-term emotional, psychological and physical effects of childhood trauma. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) increase the risk of everything from depression, alcohol abuse and incarceration through to conditions like heart disease and even cancer. It's estimated* up to half of the Scottish population will have experienced at lease one ACE.
According to one study those who have suffered four or more ACEs are twice as likely to binge drink, seven times more likely to have been involved in violence in the last year and 11 times more likely to have used heroin or been in prison. SVRU director Will Linden, said: "If we want to drastically reduce violence, cut our prison population and improve the health of our nation then we must ensure our children are raised in a safe and healthy environment."
Christmas brings both increased risks of trauma for children, but also an opportunity for both families and communties to act. There are many simple things you can do to protect children:
- Watch what your drink. Alcohol can fuel fights and lower mood. Children learn from our behaviours so set a good example.
- Make sure child safety settings are turned on for any internet enabled devices you give your child this Christmas and educate yourself about how to protect children from online threats.
-The NSPCC recommends you have simple conversations with children about sexual abuse from the age of five. Why not take the chance to have that conversation if you're off over the festive period and may have a bit of time.
-Take care of yourself. Children need happy, healthy carers. There are organisations who can help at any time of the day or night with everything from drug or alcohol abuse to mental health issues.
This Christmas the SVRU have released a brief guide highlighting some of the day-to-day traumas faced by many children, with signposts to just a small range of the amazing network of third sector and public sector support organisations available to help. You should always dial 999 if you believe a child is at risk or in danger, but there are many other specialised agenies able to offer support for everything from parental incarceration to dealing with a family members addiction issues.
Will Linden added: "Children are incredibly resilient even if they've suffered a number of horrible events in their lives like abuse or neglect, they can be protected if they receive the right support. We all have a duty to protect Scotland's children. If you suspect a child is at risk then don't ignore it, don't be a bystander to abuse, neglect or trauma. The greatest gift any child can have is a safe and happy home."