Sharing our journey to ACE awareness

Mary Glasgow, Children 1st CEOOur interim CEO Mary Glasgow shares her thoughts about speaking at the international ACE Aware Nation Conference about Children 1st’s journey to become more trauma-informed.

In my role leading Children 1st, I regularly find myself having conversations with lots of people about how, what happens in childhood affects us for the rest of our lives. Most of these conversations are about how we protect children from abuse and neglect, support children living in poverty, with all the stresses it places on families and how we help children and families to recover and repair after such trauma affects them.

So I am both excited and nervous to be invited to share how some of those conversations have shaped our work at Children 1st with the 2000 people attending the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) Aware Nation conference in Glasgow on 26 September.

When I speak about the work of our organisation I am inspired by the kindness people in Scotland show for children who are living in desperately difficult circumstances. I’ve also often been disheartened by the lack of kindness and compassion shown toward those same children, when they become adults who have not had the help they need to recover from childhood trauma and have developed unhelpful strategies to cope with the impact. However, one recent and unexpected conversation has shifted my thinking on that.

I was on a bus travelling into Glasgow city centre to speak at an event for youth workers and policy makers. I was lost in thought about what to say that would have maximum impact on behalf of the young people who need their voices heard loud and clear at such events.

A woman sat opposite me. One of those women of Glasgow, who look older than they are, the kind of woman that you know might smile and engage in a chat about the weather or just as likely, drop a funny one liner so sharp you could cut yourself on it. 

This woman smiled as she sat down, she mentioned that it was a beautiful day. We made small talk about what a wonderful summer it had been until we crossed the bridge over the Clyde into Oswald Street and on up Hope Street. As the bus pulled in at a stop she gestured toward two men huddled in doorways opposite. Young men, sleeping on the streets of a city with the brand “People make Glasgow” emblazoned across its buildings.

She muttered something about them being “an embarrassment to the city”. I caught her eye and without thinking I asked “but don’t ever you wonder why?” She looked right at me and it took all of 5 seconds for her sharp blue eyes to fill with tears. “Aye, right enough” she said, “my nephew was homeless.” She paused, thoughtful and as we got off the bus, she smiled again and said, “I’m off to buy one of those guys a coffee.”

That’s what an ACE aware nation will be, full of people who are curious and compassionate. Where children are cherished and the stories of adults who were not, are heard and understood.


*A version of this article first appeared in The Herald.