Science of childhood trauma to be considered by Dundee City Council

From left: Nicky Murray, Dr Tamasin Knight and Dr Suzanne Zeedyk at the panel discussion following the screening.

Dundee’s education and social work bosses are to consider the link between childhood trauma and poor health, after a documentary on the subject was screened in the city.

Resilience, a film that delves into the science behind the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) study, was broadcast in the DCA as part of its tour around Scotland.

The relationship between ACEs and the development of chronic disease was first explored in the 1990s, and since then the findings have been used to influence health, education and social work policies internationally.

Dundee children and families services convener Gregor Murray said the research deserves further thought, and passed the information on to the executive director of the children and families service and the chief social work officer.

A primary school in Carnoustie is already applying the findings of the study in its resilience work.

Mr Murray said: “There are elements that we are already undertaking in the city in terms of resilience for our young people but, as ever, there is always more that can be done, and we’re always willing to listen to new ideas.

“We have some really good quality data in Dundee, and I’m keen that any decisions are made with a strong evidence base and we can measure the results.”

The ACE study was conducted by the American health maintenance organisation Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It found that toxic stress, caused by ACEs, leads to a greater risk of disease, homelessness, prison time and early death as adults.

Dr Tamasin Knight, consultant in public health medicine for NHS Tayside, and school head teacher Nicky Murray took part in a panel Q&A session discussing the findings after the screening of Reslilience.

Dr Tamasin said: “When someone has depression, for example, the focus is often on their symptoms and what medication they should be given.

“But we should also be asking ‘what has happened to you’?

“I would like to see more preventative work to reduce the need for services like children and adolescent mental health to begin with.

“That’s where ACE-informed policies can really help.”

The screening and panel discussion were led by Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, a Dundee University academic and expert on social connections in childhood.

Nicky Murray, head teacher of Burnside Primary School in Carnoustie, said: “Suzanne Zeedyk and our school have entered into a partnership to continue to build upon the excellent work of Angus Council schools and ensure our decisions are informed by research including the adverse childhood experience study.”


In the 1980s Vincent Felitti, head of Kaiser Permanente’s department of preventive medicine in San Diego, conducted interviews with people who had left an obesity clinic, and discovered that a majority had experienced childhood sexual abuse.

Felitti and Robert Anda from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) went on to survey childhood trauma experiences of over 17,000 Kaiser volunteers.

They were asked about 10 types of ACEs: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse physical and emotional neglect, domestic violence, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation and
incarcerated household member.

The number of ACEs was strongly associated with adulthood high-risk health behaviours such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, and severe obesity, and correlated with ill-health including depression, heart disease and cancer.