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Resilience: the biology of stress and the science of hope comes to Leeds

Posted by. Dr Pam Jarvis
Posted on 07 June 2018


​​In her latest blog, Dr Pam Jarvis, Reader in Childhood, Youth and Education at Leeds Trinity University discusses how the screening of the film Resilience came to Leeds.

In 1998, a study that would go on to change the world was published in an academic journal called the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. In this, a multi-disciplinary group of researchers outlined a remarkable set of statistical analyses. In essence, their data had shown a clear correlation between the number of some identified adverse childhood experiences reported by participants and their physical and emotional health in adulthood. People with six or more 'ACEs' as they later came to be known were statistically likely to die 20 years earlier than people with none (Felitti et al 1998)[1]. Several years later, the researchers would reflect in recorded interviews that they were so surprised by the clear correlations emerging from the data that they ran the calculations several times before finally accepting what they had found, which is summarised on the graphic below.​

Nearly two decades later, the business partner of film maker James Redford happened upon a summary of the statistically remarkable 'ACEs' study. Redford explains that she brought the concepts to him with the comment 'I think this is the next big thing in public health'. Redford initially made a film called Paper Tigers about a US high school which created a 'trauma informed' education programme, and then followed on with Resilience: the biology of stress and the science of hope, a documentary that interviews the researchers and follows some trauma informed public health practice being undertaken in California, with animated sequences to illustrate how stress impacts upon developing minds and bodies.

Resilience: the biology of stress and the science of hope was leased to a company called Dartmouth Films who now work with cinemas in cities around the world to make the film available to interested groups. Individuals, companies or groups can sponsor a showing of the film on the proviso that they sell enough seats to reimburse the cinema for the cost of the screening.

As a psychologist, I had previously been aware of the Felliti et al research, but had not later picked up upon the impact that it was making, initially in the US, through the distribution of the film. When I opened a Twitter account in summer 2017, I was able to extend some existing professional relationships, and through this I found that there was a thriving ACEs movement in Scotland, built by Dr Suzanne Zeedyk who had been diligently contacting local groups and showing the film to children's workforce professionals across the nation.

As I made more connections through Twitter, I came into contact with other Leeds-based professionals who were interested in the ACEs concept, and together, we began to plan a showing of Resilience at the Leeds Vue Cinema, in The Light. Initially we were concerned that we would not manage to secure the 30 ticket purchases we needed to fund the film showing. We advertised the event on Twitter and through our personal contacts, and the ticket sales quickly took off. The cinema kept moving the viewing to bigger and bigger screening rooms, and by the week before the viewing, we had sold all 175 tickets available.

The film was screened to a packed cinema of children's workforce professionals. We asked people to fill in an anonymous feedback slip on the film, and to state their professional role. When we collated the information from the slips we found that we had attendees from the fields of teaching (primary secondary and university), social work, educational psychology, child and adolescent mental health services, students on child and family related programmes and early years education and care professionals working across the statutory and voluntary/independent sector. The feedback from the attendees made the following overall points:

  • We can collectively make a change'
  • 'Everybody can play a part'
  • 'It's not hopeless'
  • 'ACEs affect everyone'
  • 'The world needs to change'
  • 'Spread the word'
  • 'Parent power'

We also asked attendees who were interested in creating an ACEs Aware network in Leeds to leave contact details, which generated a significant amount of response. We have scheduled our first meeting for Wednesday 13 June.

As I detailed in my earlier blog 'ACEs too High', there are some problems that arise in the practical arena for the ACEs concept, in particular, well meaning but poorly informed applications of the ACEs questionnaire by people with insufficient training in the relevant area, which, in the worst scenarios, can actually create distress rather than alleviating it.

As such, following our colleagues in Scotland, we therefore intend to focus our networking activities not upon any type of 'diagnosis' activity, but upon supporting our local colleagues to become more ACEs aware, in particular creating a custom of asking people presenting with problem behaviour 'what happened to you?' rather than 'what is wrong with you?'; nurturing strong attachment relationships between parents and children rather than engaging in 'parent blaming' and supporting the development of restorative rather than zero tolerance practices in education, youth work and youth justice.

We are very much at the beginning of this journey, one in which we hope we will be joined by many other children's workforce and health and social welfare practitioners, working collegiately to raise ACEs Awareness in our own localities. Eventually we hope to be part of a movement that will take the UK as a whole along the road to becoming an ACEs Aware nation by the mid-21st Century.

The first Leeds ACEs Network meeting will take place in the Eastern Room at the Civic Hall, Leeds starting at 6.30 on Wednesday 13 June. At time of writing, there are 10 seats left. If you would like to take part, please book your ticket on Eventbrite​.

We look forward to seeing you there, for the beginning of our Leeds ACEs adventure!


[1] Felitti, V., Anda, R., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D., Spitz, A., Edwards, V., Koss, M. and Marks, J. (1998) Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults (The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventative Medicine Vol 14 (4), pp.245-258.