On Friday, I took a very big risk.
I am involved in an authority wide project to make our children’s services workforce trauma informed and trauma reactive, based on the type of excellent work that has been done in Brighton and Hove and Greater Manchester.
We have the support of Scottish Government to roll out training and ensure that anyone working with children has an understanding of trauma, the impact of trauma and, most importantly, what can be done to mitigate the effects of trauma through positive relationships, love and Bruce Perry’s safe and predictable experiences and environments.
I quoted several other greats in trauma research and education: Dr Karen Treisman, Lisa Cherry, Dr Bessel Van der Kolk, Carol Craig, Jaz Ampaw Farr, Judy Furnivall and Edwina Grant. And I made use links to the presentation at the Early Years Conference that many of us had attended that day before where Dr Ferre Laevers had spoken about the need for us to value wellbeing as highly as other aspects of attainment and use observations and relationships to ensure that all children thrive.
And then I explained why this work, perhaps more than any other in my professional repertoire, is important to me.
When I was 7 years old (and yes, I both love and hate that Luke’s Graham song), I was abused by someone whom my parents had entrusted to look after me.
I told no one. I did not have the words.
I lived for years with the absolute sense that it had been my fault and that I was bad. I embodied shame.
I went to bed every night and prayed that my family would not be punished because of my badness…even though I did not believe in a god.
And I developed coping strategies and behaviours to help me survive in a world that I saw as unsafe, scary and sad.
I made myself the best at everything. Exam results, rôles in school plays, singing and viola exams, Head girl. I was out-standing.
But it was never enough. I was never enough. Inside, nothing was ever enough because I was bad. The song from “The Greatest Showman” tells my truth as it was back then….and still is, if I am not very careful, today.
And at that time, none of the adults in my life looked at those behaviours and saw them for what they were. No one was curious because we didn’t have the science, the knowledge and the language that we have today to see that the behaviours of some children are telling us things about which we need to be curious. I don’t blame them because I know that they were doing the best with the knowledge they had at the time.
At the early years conference, Professor Kate Wall spoke about attunement and the idea that as, adults working with children we need to take time to read the things that people and children can’t or don’t verbalise but show in other ways. I can say without doubt that if the adults in my life had had the science and knowledge to read my behaviours better and to help me understand my feelings, then I wouldn’t have gone on to develop anorexia or to spend years trying to unlearn my unhelpful defence mechanisms. Without being overdramatic, I’m lucky to be alive, as anorexia is the mental health condition in which death is most prevalent, either due to starvation or to suicide.
I have written about these experiences in my book, where I go into more detail about why having adults who understand trauma in children’s lives is so crucial. I first wrote that book three years ago under a pen name but have gradually been sharing it as me over the last year because I have a strong belief that my authenticity is what might help change things for others. https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/embed?asin=B01KP8XT86&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_yNodyb2G7M8DZ&reshareId=ZPD0HMP64M4PPKVP9Q3E&reshareChannel=system
And on Friday, I brought that story to the people who know me professionally. My bosses and my colleagues will never see me in the same way again. Maybe that will have negative consequences for my career but I felt that it was necessary for me to take that risk. I know that, on the whole, people are “either” an “education professional” or an “inspirational speaker on trauma with lived experience”. But on Friday I tried to show that it is possible to be a hybrid, a professional human and a simultaneously outstanding and flawed.
48 hours on and the sky hasn’t fallen in, so I’m hoping it might have been a risk worth taking……..