I’ve just returned from a fabulous first Australasian Conference of Child Trauma (ACOCT). Three days at the sunny Gold Coast with a program packed with relevant and thought-provoking presentations on e.g., the Christchurch response, indigenous culture-informed care, brain development in maltreated children, the Victorian 2009 Bushfires, and trauma-focused CBT.
About 450 people participated, impressive for a first-time conference in not-so-flourishing times. The atmosphere was great, with a nice mix of clinicians and researchers (hopefully also some policy makers but I’m not sure). In two years there will be a new edition, so keep an eye on the ACOCT website. Below are a few of the highlights:
Pieter Rossouw discussed the functions of the brain in relation to children’s development and their response to traumatic exposure. He stressed the importance of providing safety during interventions and the possibility of change at any age. In one study he mentioned, terminally ill elderly people learned a new skill (e.g., a man learned to knit) in the last few days of their lives. On autopsy, a marker in their brain showed that they had developed new neural pathways. He left me, and I think many others, with feelings of hope and optimism.
Rossouw’s and profs. Rachel Yehuda and Akemi Tomoda‘s presentations made me want to dive into the neuropsychological and neurobiological literature again, so I have been browsing the Amazon site for good recent books. This one on trauma and resilience, this popular science book, and this updated version of one of my favorite study books seem nice starting points.
Prof. Louise Newman pointed to our shared responsibility for children’s rights and wellbeing. I was shocked by her account of the circumstances of young refugees in Australia, especially those in mandatory detention. This also came up in the presentation by David Lyon on resources for professionals in the education sector working with refugees. Their stories (again) made me think that we create a self fulfilling prophecy; anxiety for refugees → refugee children are deprived of the caring environment they need → fertile ground for developing mental health problems and delinquent behavior. Making them feel safe and providing them with opportunities to learn seems to be a much better approach for the children and the country…
A few interesting facts shared in various presentations:
- Children in pediatric intensive care only receive an average of 4h sleep per 24h (Justin Kenardy)
- 8,4 % of Australian adolescents have auditory or visual hallucinations; most of them don’t go on to develop psychosis. However, child maltreatment is a risk factor (James Scott)
- Emotional abuse is a stronger risk factor for mental health problems than physical maltreatment (several presenters).
Finally, I would like to make note of an anonymous presenter (I’m not entirely sure he would like to be mentioned by name). He was very nervous for his presentation, had trembling hands and voice, but delivered such a beautifully crafted speech. No powerpoint, just his text, on which he had probably spent more time than anyone else in the conference. He was so clearly touched by the children he worked with and showed such a human, caring perspective, I was really moved by his talk.