Stories of Resilience - John Swinney

Hello, and welcome to Stories Of Resilience, our podcast series to promote an ACE-Aware nation in Scotland. Adverse Childhood Experiences touch us all in one way or another; this series explores the thoughts of those involved with the ACEs movement in Scotland, and we talk to individuals who have Stories Of Resilience to share.

I’m Gary Robinson. My guest today is Scotland's Deputy First Minister and cabinet secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney. When we met at St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh, we spoke about the impact of adverse childhood experiences, the ACEs movement, and how making Scotland an ACE-aware nation fits into the government's vision of the future.
GARY: Deputy First Minister, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed on Stories of Resilience; we know you're busy, so thank you genuinely for your time. Could we start by asking, what is the Scottish government's view of ACEs, and how do you think it's going to affect the the country going forward?

JOHN: Fundamentally, the government accepts the presence and the prevalence of ACEs, the fact that they have to be addressed, remedied, recognised; and that has to essentially be taken forward right across our public services. So if an individual has had experiences of ACEs, that is likely to have an effect on their life - either on the short term immediately afterwards, or in the longer term beyond that - and our public services have got to understand ACEs; understand their effect; understand the impact they have on individuals; to begin to then understand how you might support an individual who will be presenting in a particular way to public services, to make sure they get the support they require. So if I give you an example, a child who has experienced ACEs and it's likely to have a barrier to their learning - [INAUDIBLE 2:12] in my current portfolio is likely to have a barrier to the learning - so we won't be able to ensure that that young person has a fulfilling learning and educational experience, unless that is influenced by steps to overcome and address their experience of ACEs. So I suppose in short, some of the government's view on this question is that we recognise the prevalence of ACEs; and we recognise that we have to act to support individuals to overcome the effect of ACEs, to enable them to be able to have a fulfilling life as everyone is entitled to have.

GARY: We know that ACEs has been around for for a number of years; why do you think now - in Scotland, in particular - this grassroots movement has suddenly come alive and burst open, as it were?

JOHN:  I think the understanding of ACEs has emerged over a long period of time, and I think it's influenced all the thinking within Scotland over a long period of time; but perhaps not as defined as ACEs. So if I look back to the thinking that went into the agenda about Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) in Scotland, I would say, is probably at least 20 years in the making - the thinking that underpins the GIRFEC agenda, I think, is similar to the thinking that is essentially underpinning the analysis of ACEs. But I think what the current debate, and the development of this very strong grassroots movement has helped, is to give a much greater, more tangible sense about the GIRFEC agenda. It sort of crystallises some of the challenges that have got to be overcome, to make sure that individuals are able to fulfill their potential.
The grassroots movement, I think. has helped to give a much sharper definition of what ACEs are and what the impact they can have on individuals’ lives; and that's helped to reinforce the wider long-term agenda we've had in Scotland, which has been focused on getting it right for every child. I very much welcome the wider grassroots debate that is taking place on this question, because the more voices that are contributing to this discussion and this debate, the more likely we are to create the type of broader consensus that is required to do something about these issues.

GARY: Personally, do you remember the first time you heard about ACEs and what your thoughts were?

JOHN: The first time I would have heard about ACEs would have been in connection with the discussion around the film Resilience. I think my thinking had been very much influenced by the GIRFEC agenda, and then I saw the discussion that emerged around the Resilience film, a much sharper articulation of many issues with which we've been wrestling for some time. My reaction to it was to recognise that this was an opportunity to essentially gather together a lot of different arguments and possible interventions, and then to make sure that they had a tangible effect within our public services. I think the benefit that the focus on ACEs has had, is that it’s made a lot an awful lot clearer the sense of what actions we need to take to address these questions.

GARY: Did the film Resilience have a similar impact on your colleagues?

JOHN: Yes; I got asked us to view the Resilience film a couple of times - and I was unable to accept the invitations; just physical logistics stopped me from doing so - but I wanted to see the film, but I wanted to see it in the right context. I wanted to see it with a view to not just watch the film, but “I’m gonna watch a film and then agree what we're gonna do about it.” So I watched the film with a group of senior officials in the Scottish Government and many of our agencies, but also many of the grassroots campaigners and also leaders in the third sector. We all watched the film together, and then we rearranged the seating and we had a conversation about what we're gonna do about this now; that would be just around about, not far off a year ago, and from that a number of options have emerged. You and I convened a grouping of senior ministers and many stakeholders in Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow in March, and the First Minister decided to come to that event; it’s her prerogative to drop in on anything that she fancies coming along to, that her ministers are up to. We were really pleased that the First Minister came - the Justice Minister of the time was there, the Community Secretary, the Health Secretary, myself as Education Secretary, the Early Years Minister and and the First Minister was there - and a whole range of our senior officials, with many many stakeholders around the country; about 100 of us, and also a lot of other public servants. The purpose of that was to really sharpen our focus, right across the public sector, about what we were all individually and collectively doing to ensure that our organisations were responsive to the agenda that was driven by the discussion on ACEs; and that we were acting in a fashion to actually overcome some of these challenges. I found that a really productive discussion, because a number of things happened that day; one, we had incredibly powerful contributions to that agenda; secondly, it was very clear that we had a lot of enthusiasm and commitment to try to work to address these issues; and thirdly, it wasn't just a talking shop: it was a discussion that led to very clear and specific directions being taken by different organisations, to make sure their organisations were ACE-aware, and that they were taken steps to encourage more and more public servants to incorporate an understanding of and a means of overcoming ACEs as part of operational practice.



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