This blog first appeared on the Royal Society for Public Health website and was written by Timothy Wood, Chief Inspector for Gloucestershire Constabulary. It reflects on the journey he has taken since his first involvement in the National Consensus Statement working group in October 2016, with a particular focus on his learning about Adverse Childhood Experiences.
That opening conversation with someone you may not have met before can often follow a similar pattern . . .
“What’s your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“What is your role?”
“What do you do?”
So how do we respond? Well for much of the last 16 years I have been programmed to respond, “I’m a Police Officer in Gloucestershire, most recently in a role relating to prevention and early intervention.”
Just over two years ago, in my role as a Police Officer, I was asked by my Chief Constable to attend and present at a summit in London between Policing and Health, aimed at exploring how the two sectors can work more closely together on common issues. I felt slightly out of my depth, but little did I know this was going to be the start of something significant. It was from this event that I first heard about Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs.
I was immediately struck by the evidence base and the potential for prevention – after all, according to Robert Peel’s founding principles of Policing, the basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder, with the test of police efficiency being the very absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.
So I set about looking to make change within my business area, such as building an ACEs assessment into our referral processes, raising the awareness of staff working on the team, sharing the emerging evidence around resilience and encouraging the confidence to talk about and act on ACEs. I sought to build relationships with local Public Health colleagues, using ACEs as the hook to unite us. It worked. I am very proud of the strong relationships I now have with many of my health colleagues.
I continued to try to influence others and remember clearly the day I first met with Assistant Chief Constable Julian Moss. He too was immediately captured by the preventative potential behind ACEs. Through his involvement in the Health & Wellbeing Board he too formed strong alliances and so the momentum started to grow.
In November 2017, through the Health & Wellbeing Board, Gloucestershire held an ACEs Summit, with senior leaders from across the county invited to come and hear about the science and potential behind ACEs. The positive response was overwhelming – we realised we were on to something here.
An ACEs Panel was formed, made up of senior representatives from organisations including housing, education, children services, district council, VCS, youth justice, CCG, as well as public health and policing. The momentum was growing and, utilising an approach known as ‘Viral Change’, the freedom was there for all to try new things and to learn from each other.
In November 2018, the ACEs Panel delivered Gloucestershire’s first ACEs Conference in Cheltenham – Action on ACEs. We made 220 tickets available and 220 tickets were gone in the blink of any eye. People turning up on the day without a ticket, hopeful of securing a place at the back. 250 people crammed into the room.
Two fantastic key note speakers, as well as inspiring stories of local change. Everyone staying to the end, enthused and motivated by the science behind ACEs and the inspiring message of hope achieved through the potential to do something about it.
The movement is growing in Gloucestershire. I can no longer keep up with some of the amazing innovations that are happening across the county. But what about me personally?
I personally have learnt a lot in the last two years. My understanding about ACEs, trauma and resilience has changed how I think and how I act. Most importantly though, it has not just changed me as a Police Officer. So I go back to that question at the start: “What is your role?”.
Well, my most important role is as a Dad of two young children. The last two years have undoubtedly changed me as a parent. The knowledge I have been fortunate enough to gain has empowered me to understand my children better, to respond to them better, and so to enhance the relationships that I have with them. The change has been very simple. It has been about showing love and compassion in the moments when it is hardest to do so (in those moments when my own stress response is being activated!). It is my belief, therefore, that every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling, friend, neighbour . . . everyone, should be able to feel the same sense of empowerment that this knowledge brings.
In my other role, as a Police Officer, we have now committed to becoming a trauma informed organisation. What does this mean to me? Very simply, it means putting kindness, compassion and relationships at the heart of keeping people safe. After all, if this works in my most important role in life, why shouldn’t it work in my other role?
Little did I know when I attended that summit in October 2016 quite how significant it would end up being, but our journey in Gloucestershire is really only just beginning. So I end with the following quote: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” . If we all seek to do this, both personally and professionally, together we will be able to make great change.