This month we caught up with Dr Warren Larkin who is a Consultant clinical psychologist specialising in Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs. Leaving school with few qualifications, Dr Larkin went back into education to re-sit his O Levels. Discovering that he was more intelligent than his careers teacher had given himself credit for, he moved on to study Psychology at Hull University. Dr Larkin started his NHS career working in Burnley on a resettlement project trying to get long-stay patients out of asylums and then moved on to work at Prestwich Hospital. Whilst at Prestwich Warren’s lifelong interest in trauma and adversity began. During his time at Prestwich, Warren began to question the received wisdom about the origins of and best responses to mental health problems. This was the start of his academic journey, researching trauma and psychosis, which led to the publication of his first book in 2006 – Trauma and Psychosis – New Directions for Theory and Therapy with his co-editor, Prof Tony Morrison.
After becoming the Clinical Director for NHS Children and Families services in Lancashire in 2012, Dr Larkin had a damascene moment whilst shadowing Health Visitors visiting families in the community. Seeing all of these newborn babies and thinking about how their lives would be determined largely by their early years experiences and environment led Warren to shift his perspective – after years of being a specialist clinician – he realised that his mission was to make prevention rather than cure the new status quo.
Since 2017 Warren and a small team of associates have been using the best scientific evidence to create solutions that promote public health and wellbeing. Warren Larkin Associates provide high quality psychosocial education and training to a range of sectors in the UK and abroad. Alongside this work, WLA also offers policy and strategic advice to a diverse range of public and private sector organisations and NGOs, such as Violence Reduction Units, NHS, NHS Health Scotland, Local Authorities, HMPPS, UNICEF, as well as UK government departments.
At present, Warren Larkin Associates are supporting a number of organisations and national agencies in the development of trauma-informed practice and systems, which take advantage of the current focus on multi-agency integration, place-based implementation and the imperative for sustainability.
Warren Larkin Associates have developed and successfully delivered the REACh (Routine Enquiry about Adversity in Childhood) programme to many organisations. REACh aims to raise awareness amongst professionals and the public about long term outcomes of childhood adversity and trauma. This is achieved by establishing and supporting organisational practice and culture change by embedding enquiry about adverse childhood experiences within every appropriate assessment. One or two days of training is delivered alongside organisational support, helping teams to navigate potential risks and challenges and to ensure appropriate staff support is in place.
Jennie, our Director, asked Dr Larkin ‘Do you think that Covid 19 will be classified as an ACE in perhaps 10 years?’ Whilst Dr Larkin does not feel that it will be defined as an ACE, he does believe that it will be a defining period in the lives of many children. There are more children living with conflict, more children living with domestic abuse and violence, more children are looking after a parent with mental health problems now, so Covid 19 has increased the rates of people being exposed to ACEs rather than being an ACE itself. Teachers, sports coaches, mentors, people with that strong positive influence on children have been unable to offer the same level of support in many cases so children have lost that important source of resilience – or that buffering factor that offers some protection against what the US Surgeon General calls, ‘Toxic Stress’. So, it is likely that over time we will see the impacts of this period of toxic stress and trauma appearing in the lives of those affected. This may mean people’s physical health, psychological wellbeing and relationships are adversely affected. At the same time, Dr Larkin remains hopeful that many people affected by trauma and adversity during the pandemic will have found sources of professional and social support, coping strategies and helpful activities that will have helped them weather the storm – only time will tell.
In June 2020 a cross-sector Resilience Task Force was established by Dr Larkin and Sir Norman Lamb, with the support of over 80 organisations, professionals, and experts from various sectors launched a campaign calling on the Government to convene a cross-sector task force who could help develop a national response plan to address the negative psychological and social impacts of the pandemic. They have received recognition from the Government that this is a ‘live and critical issue’ and an open dialogue with various government officials and advisors ensues. Please visit the Resilience Task Force website to find out the latest news from this very important campaign.