New resources to support families and children after traumatic events

25 July 2017

The Mental Health Foundation in partnership with the Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) has produced new resources to help both parents and professional health visitors to support families and children after traumatic events – such as car accidents, violence, illnesses and operations and also large-scale incidents such as those recently at Grenfell Tower and the terrorist attack at Manchester Arena. The new Good Practice Points provide evidence-based information for health visitors to help them to support families after a traumatic event, and the new Parent Tips provides information to parents to help them to support their children after such an event.

Traumatic events can be defined as direct or indirect experiences that put either a person or someone close to them at risk of serious harm or death. Children will react in different ways to a traumatic event and how they react may also depend slightly on their age and where they are at in their development. However, whatever their age, they are likely to experience a range of changes in their thinking, emotions, behaviour and physical responses. For most children, these symptoms will go away on their own after a few weeks. However, for 10-30% of children who have experienced a traumatic event, they go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which can have adverse long-term effects on child development and adjustment.

Dr Camilla Rosan, who was the lead author on the resources, and Clinical Psychologist at the Mental Health Foundation said: “Experiencing a frightening event can understandably really shake up a family and it can be hard to know what to do for the best. Many families find it particularly challenging to know how to support younger children and infants who might not be able to clearly let you know, or even be aware, how the traumatic event might have affected them. We hope that these materials will help reassure professionals and families that changes are completely normal and, for most children, will not continue beyond a few weeks. However, for those that do not get better on their own, it reaffirms the importance of seeking professional mental health support and accessing evidence-based treatments.”

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, executive director of the Institute of Health Visiting, commented: “With more than two thirds of children experiencing at least one traumatic event by the time they are 16 years old, we need to be able to provide good support to them and their families.  Through mandated contacts with families, health visitors build good trusted relationships with all families and are, therefore, well placed to provide guidance and support at these difficult times. We very much hope that this new guidance will help both families and health visitors manage these enormously challenging circumstances with more knowledge of what will help.”