Schools are to be recognised for their commitment to supporting children with acquired brain injuries (ABI) and their families through the introduction of a new accreditation.
The Child Brain Injury Trust has created the ABI Aware School Award, to help both primary and secondary schools develop best practice around brain injury and its often hidden consequences.
A leading researcher has suggested that, on average, in a class of 30 children, three will sustain a brain injury at some point in their childhood, with at least one being a serious injury.
Each year, at least 35,000 children will be taken to A&E with a head injury, although the actual number of those sustaining ABI is thought to be up to 60,000, when taking into account non traumatic brain injury such as illness, stroke and tumours.
However, due to the ‘unseen’ nature of many of the effects of ABI, the true impact of this on children’s lives is often underestimated or not recognised, and in many cases a child’s brain injury is often undiagnosed.
To help support such children, as well as their families, the Child Brain Injury Trust has developed a framework comprising seven key areas and 39 individual criteria for schools to address, which they will be supported to achieve ahead of their assessment for the award, with reaccreditation being required every three years.
The framework covers a spectrum of aspects from identification and awareness of ABI, to transition or return to school, and how the individual child and their family are communicated with.
Teachers will be able to access free CPD-accredited training online, alongside pre-prepared lesson plans to enable them to support pupils in developing their awareness of ABI.
The ABI Aware School Award has been in the planning for several years, and went was trialed last year, with one academy school in Herefordshire set to become the first in the country to secure the award in the coming months. The award is now set to be rolled out nationally.
The Child Brain Injury Trust has collaborated with the Eden Dora Trust for Children with Encephalitis on the development of the award.
“The vast majority of children return to mainstream school after ABI. For adults, they may need to go to specialist rehabilitation, but for children and young people, their ‘rehab’ takes place in school. While teachers are experts in teaching children, they may not be equipped to deal with brain injury – and that is the reason for the Award,” says Louise Wilkinson, head of information and learning at The Child Brain Injury Trust who is leading the initiative.
“The Child Brain Injury Trust has always promoted awareness of ABI within education because it’s so important, but there is a still a lot of work to do.
“I would liken ABI to being regarded how ADHD was five to 10 years ago. If you go into a school now, everyone knows what ADHD is, and that’s where we want to get to with ABI. We want every child to achieve their potential.
“We felt the best route forward was to develop a programme without charge to encourage schools to take a brave step and be proactive in learning about ABI. Even if they don’t think they have any children in their school with a brain injury, statistically there probably will be, so it’s about recognising the signs and supporting the child from there.”
Through the specialist training provided and identification of areas to look out for with children’s behaviour and the support they need, schools can play a vital role in getting to the root of causes of behavioural or learning issues, says Louise.
“When a child has a head injury and goes to A&E, the majority of parents are told their child has made a full recovery. Often they’re given a concussion letter and off they go home, and in some NHS Trusts it isn’t recorded as a head injury if they’re not admitted for two nights or more,” says Louise, a past winner of the UKABIF Stephen McAleese Award for Inspiration by an individual in the field of ABI.
“They’re walking wounded, they look fine, sometimes an injury is never picked up at all and the young person is just perceived as being lazy, and poorly behaved; these problems can then lead to exclusion and potentially into the youth offending system. Maybe physically they have made a full recovery, but it’s the unseen impact which is often not recognised.
“It can be much later when things are noticed – I remember one family with a 14-year-old son who started going off the rails, his parents were beside themselves and paid for a private paediatric clinical neuropsychologist. The consultant opened the file and asked his parents ‘Do you think this could be related to the fractured skull he sustained aged two?’
“Through the Award, we’re trying to create much greater awareness of child brain injury, and increase the knowledge of how to recognise the signs and most importantly how to support the child or young person.”
The Award is expected to be a 9 to 12 month process for most schools, with Louise and the Child Brain Injury Trust team supporting schools throughout, with ongoing feedback being given throughout the process.
“We don’t want anyone to fail and will do all we can to get every school to succeed. It may well be a case of them having to implement some new processes to be given the Award, or simply providing more evidence to show what they’re doing, but we will work with schools to help them become ABI Aware,” says Louise.
“We want the whole school team to buy into this from the leadership teams to the staff, and would urge any school who would like to work towards attaining the accreditation to get in touch.”
PFA leaders pledge to donate brain to Concussion Legacy Project
Two senior figures at the PFA have pledged to donate their brain to research as part of the pioneering Concussion Legacy Project to protect future generations of players.
PFA Chief Executive Maheta Molango and PFA Chair John Mousinho have both made the pledge through a partnership with the Concussion Legacy Foundation UK, following the lead of England Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson.
The Concussion Legacy Project, unveiled yesterday, will research Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and other consequences of brain trauma in athletes and military veterans in the UK.
PFA Chief Executive Molango, a former striker at Brighton & Hove Albion, Lincoln City and Oldham Athletic, said: “While being very mindful of taking immediate steps to protect current players, in the long-term ongoing research is vital to enable us to be able to answer more questions and best support members.
“We have been listening and engaging with leading academic experts, and they tell us that brain donation is a key piece to the puzzle in understanding CTE. We are excited to join a global network of the most prominent researchers in this area.”
Yesterday, Steve Thompson became the first athlete to pledge to the Concussion Legacy Project’s Brain Bank, with the former Lion previously stating that he cannot remember playing in England’s 2003 World Cup final win over Australia.
Today, Oxford United’s captain Mousinho, who has amassed over 500 league appearances over a fifteen-year professional career, committed his support for the project.
PFA Chair Mousinho explained: “Brain donation is an intensely personal decision for former players and their families. However, I have been inspired by the team at the Concussion Legacy Foundation and The Jeff Astle Foundation, and I have decided to commit my brain to future research in the hope that it can help play a part in protecting future generations.
“The Concussion Legacy Foundation has a strong ethos of supporting families and everyone affected by brain injury, and they are values we share at the PFA.”
Dawn Astle, who has been campaigning for two decades for football’s authorities to publicly recognise a link between the repeated heading of a football and dementia in later life, has given her full support to the new concussion initiative.
Speaking on behalf of The Jeff Astle Foundation, she said: “Brain donation is the most valuable gift of all for future generations of footballers. It may be many years before this jigsaw is complete but adding each piece, one at a time is the only way we will understand the true picture and make a better future for others.
“The Jeff Astle Foundation encourages families of athletes and veterans to donate the brain of their loved one to the Concussion Legacy Project at PledgeMyBrain.org.”
‘We want to be part of the solution – for Bill and future generations’
Dr Judith Gates speaks to NR Times about this weekend’s football match organised by Head for Change, which will be the first ever to involve no heading of the ball
The first football match which involves no heading of the ball will help raise awareness and stimulate conversation about the impact of head injury in sport, its organisers have said.
The 11-a-side match, involving 25 former professional footballers, has been hailed as an experiment as researchers try to discover whether the game can function without heading, in light of ever-growing research which links football to neurodegenerative disease.
It is organised by Head for Change, the organisation helping to drive forward calls for changes to player safety, and will only allow headers in the penalty box for the first half and then restrict all heading during the second half.
It will be held at Spennymoor Town Football Club, in County Durham, on Sunday at 3pm.
The event forms part of the “legacy” for former Spennymoor Town and Middlesbrough defender Bill Gates, who has sports-related dementia, and whose wife Dr Judith Gates is co-founder and chair of Head for Change.
“When Bill received his diagnosis in 2017, we made two promises to him,” Dr Gates tells NR Times.
“One was to optimise his life and do all we could to make his life as good as we could as a dad, grandad and great grandad, and the second was for his legacy, to do everything we could to be part of the solution for future generations of footballers and their families not to have to face this.
“The purpose of this match is to raise awareness of the dangers of heading the ball and to provide alternative discussion with purpose. It’s an experiment to see what the game will look like.
“To be clear, Head for Change is not suggesting heading should be banned, that is a decision for football’s governing authorities, not for us.
“But we want people to realise the impact. Bill was a Titan to me in his 20s, fit and indestructible, so if this disease can do this to him, it can happen to anyone.”
The match has attracted widespread media attention and comes after an array of stark academic findings, including the research from Professor Willie Stewart that footballers are up to five times more likely to suffer from dementia than the general population.
“Part of why I co-founded Head for Change was to be part of the solution,” says Dr Gates.
“We’re extremely aware that there is a lot of bashing going on and everyone is saying it’s someone else’s fault, but lessons must be learnt from the past.
“For too long we have been assured that our brain was safe in our skull, but we are increasingly understanding how the brain works and how it can be damaged through contact sports. Education will continue to play a very important role in what happens going forward.”
The match itself – which will also be raising money for The Solan Connor Fawcett Cancer Trust – will be held at Spennymoor Town’s stadium, The Brewery Field.
The town is where Dr Gates grew up and met her husband, and in a quirk of fate, Spennymoor Town’s chief executive Brad Groves used to work for Bill as a warehouseman when Bill owned a chain of sports stores.
The club, alongside those playing in the match, have been hugely supportive of their ambitions, says Dr Gates.
“We’ve been amazed at the extent to which they have stepped up, Spennymoor have been phenomenal. Brad has been so kind in offering whatever he can do to help. We are hugely appreciative,” she says.
“The players taking part are excited to be part of it, they may not be able to use one of their many footballing skills but they can use the rest of them.
“Spennymoor is a small town with a big heart and we are so pleased to be able to hold this match, and particularly here, at Bill’s first club.”
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