The brain is wider than the sky.Emily Dickinson
In the countries we come from – Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria – many of us will have experienced traumas at home, at school, in our neighbourhoods or at work – many of these are also outlined in our safeguarding resource. We cannot overestimate the number of our colleagues who will have directly, or indirectly, experienced or witnessed violence and abuses of all types in childhood. Social workers and psychologists call these ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’. Whilst these may be more obvious in the lives of children from poor or fragmented families in our countries, even children who have not suffered economically may well have experienced or witnessed abuse in their families, faced discrimination due to their ethnic background, or simply because they are a girl. They witness and experience the consequences of political, ethnic or social divisions during election times or protests, and are witnesses to the injustices they see each day, which can be overwhelming, even if they themselves are not living in poverty.
Adverse Childhood Experiences Affect Youth Workers
Adversity in childhood affects how we think. This isn’t something we can just ‘shake off’- we may need concerted help over a long time to address this.
Our brains, and the millions of connections in them, grow over time, responding both to our genetics and the environment around us. As we know, a river channel will deepen the more water flows through it. In our brains, this means that connections become ever stronger depending upon what we use our brains for, or others do not develop if they are not used.
For a child living in adversity, such as one who wonders how she will be fed each night, and how she can stay safe, focusing on these issues and how to address them is so fundamental it will become the primary ‘channels’ in her brain. It also means that when she faces adversity, she will respond in the way she has been raised: focusing on the immediate rather than long-term planning.
If we have experienced this as children, we as youth workers will also likely continue to be affected by it. How do we respond to stress and adversity now? Are we good at long-term planning? Do we panic? Are we able to ask for help?
- Read this [https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/aces-and-toxic-stress-frequently-asked-questions/ ] and calculate your own ACE score. Sometimes we think that the things we see girls around us face are so normal because we have experienced them ourselves. It’s important to recognise that we may not be recognising the challenges others face because we have never recognised that our own Adverse Childhood Experiences have also affected us.
- When you face stress or something goes wrong in the youth club or activity, do you panic? Do you feel confident to ask for help? Do you know who you could ask for help from?
- If you don’t feel able to ask for help, can you identify the sort of help you feel you regularly need, and how you would find it easier to ask for that help? Discuss this with a colleague or your supervisor.
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