Warning of overload in childhood trauma data

Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood has said the government hopes to begin collecting data on ACEs through the use of 'routine inquiry'. Photograph: Neil Hanna
Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood has said the government hopes to begin collecting data on ACEs through the use of 'routine inquiry'. Photograph: Neil Hanna
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Child protection experts have raised concerns over the routine gathering of information on childhood trauma after the Scottish Government signalled its intention to begin collecting the data.

There is growing interest in the study of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), with research indicating that those who suffer multiple forms of trauma as children are many times more likely to experience mental ill health, drug and alcohol dependency and even physical health problems in later life.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood has said the government hopes to begin collecting data on ACEs, through the use of “routine inquiry” where those working in health and social care ask adults questions about their experience of childhood trauma.

But Professor Jane Callaghan, director of child wellbeing and protection at Stirling University, said she was worried the move could lead to increasing numbers of families being identified with only depleted services in place to provide support.

“The big concern I have is the absence of any movement towards providing good quality service to manage potential disclosures,” she said.

“Families should be able to say when bad things are happening, but unless we are providing some form of safety net for people, there’s a real risk that it’s awareness that could actually be quite harmful. If there are people disclosing trauma and then nothing happens, that’s actually quite dangerous.”

Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s health committee in January, Calderwood said the government hoped to begin routine inquiry as well as adding questions on childhood trauma to the Scottish Household Survey.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As part of our collaboration with NHS Health Scotland and their Scottish ACE Hub to develop the evidence base on ACEs and explore approaches to better prevent and respond to childhood adversity, we are funding a small-scale pilot of routine enquiry of childhood adversity with adults which will run across six GP practices.”