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Understanding ACEs: What does this mean for the housing sector?

Last year, hundreds of people from across the housing sector took part in the Housing, Trauma and Resilience Roadshow. Zhan McIntyre highlights some of the main learning from these events and shares the newly published report on understanding adverse childhood experiences and the housing sector. 

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Social landlords by their very nature are interested in, and influential around, the resilience of their local communities.

Good quality affordable homes are important, but for social landlords this is not where their interest ends. Very often involved in building the skills and capacity of their tenants, council landlords, housing associations and co-operatives across Scotland offer a range of community facilities and services that help individuals and communities not only overcome adversity but also focused on making communities thrive.

It is for that reason that the conversations relating to Adverse Childhood Experiences – commonly referred to as ACEs - has attracted interest from the housing sector. Examples of ACEs include domestic violence, parental depression, parental addiction issues, neglect, physical or sexual abuse, bullying  and bereavement. ACEs can have a significant impact on health and wellbeing. 

Studies have shown that as the number of ACEs increases, the risk of experiencing poorer health, educational outcomes and social outcomes increases for children and young people; and this extends into adulthood.  Experiencing early adversity does not mean that children and adults are destined to poor outcomes though, there is much that can be done to both prevent and respond to childhood adversity.

Encouraged by a growing interest in ACEs, a small multi-agency working group, set out to explore the links between adverse childhood experiences and the role of good quality housing and social landlords as community anchors.  Using the ‘Resilience’ documentary as a platform for discussion, a series of ‘roadshow’ events were held across the country, which consisted of a screening of the ‘Resilience’ film, a panel discussion with representatives from housing and health and table top discussions with participants. This new report highlights the key themes that emerged from the events, including

Responding to ACEs

  • Importance of collaborative working both within and across agencies
  • Building relationships and good communication with clients
  • The importance of access to resources and training

Challenges to ACEs Approaches

  • Funding and over-Stretched Services
  • Difficult to change or influence culture
  • Varying levels of understanding about ACEs.

Ideas for Improving Practice

  • Better information sharing to prevent re-telling their story.
  • Increasing staff knowledge and skills in the workforce to respond in a trauma-informed way.
  • Developing trauma informed policies.
  • Delivering multi-agency approaches can help ensure consistent approaches.

What does this mean for our customers?

A  frequent comment made at the Resilience Roadshow was that this was not a new concept for many people; it is well-understood across our sector.  Certainly this is true; social landlords have always had a keen awareness that inequality and limited access to resources can harm individuals.

The evidence base of ACEs and the momentum around this agenda creates opportunities to work collaboratively with colleagues from health and social care with this shared language.  We can use this shared language to help explore how we as housing providers and community anchors can work with partner agencies to use the 'Pair of ACEs' - 'Adverse Childhood Experiences' and 'Adverse Community Environments' lens to understand our tenants and communities and improve the services we deliver to them.  Adopting multi-agency ‘trauma-informed’ practice, will enable staff to respond and organisational systems to adapt and identify opportunities to prevent ACEs and respond to the impact of trauma.

Trauma informed practice is not designed specifically to treat trauma related difficulties. Instead it seeks to prevent and address the barriers that those affected by trauma can experience when accessing the services they require for a healthy life, including housing. NHS Education for Scotland (NES) has recently published a Knowledge and Skills Framework for Psychological Trauma as a resource to help organisations and services to understand what they need to know to help their particular customers, and is available online[i].  This resource is relevant to everyone working in the public sector and sets out the essential knowledge and skills for the workforce to ensure that the needs of children and adults who are affected by trauma are recognised, understood and responded to.

We have here a golden opportunity to harness the wider understanding and momentum of this subject to make in-roads to our health and social care partners.  Potentially small changes in process, policy and approach could make a substantial difference to individuals and families. Furthermore, the work we do in our communities to make them resilient and stronger has wider and potentially long-lasting positive impact on health.  Let us use this language to talk to our Health and Social Care Partnerships, to help them understand the housing contribution and importantly, invest in what we deliver with and for our communities.

Click here to read the Housing, Trauma and Resilience Report.


[i] NES (2017) Knowledge and Skills Framework for Psychological Trauma https://www.nes.scot.nhs.uk/media/3983113/NationalTraumaTrainingFramework-execsummary-web.pdf

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