A set of resources have been developed to help health visitors support children and their families following traumatic events, ranging from car accidents to terror attacks.
More than two thirds of children will experience at least one traumatic event by the time they reach the age of 16, noted the Institute of Health Visiting, which has published the new guidance.
“We very much hope that this new guidance will help both families and health visitors”
It said the new resources covered trauma after events ranging from car accidents, violence, illnesses and surgery to large-scale incidents such as the Grenfell Tower fire and recent terrorist attacks at Manchester and London.
Developed with the Mental Health Foundation, the institute said that its new “good practice points” provided evidence-based information for health visitors, while the “parent tips” were intended to offer information to help parents support their children.
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, noted the institute.
It highlighted that children would react in different ways to a traumatic event and how they did so might also depend slightly on their age and at what stage they were at in their development.
However, whatever their age, they were likely to experience a range of changes in their thinking, emotions, behaviour and physical responses, it said.
“Experiencing a frightening event can understandably really shake up a family”
For most children, symptoms would go away on their own after a few weeks, said the institute. But it warned that 10-30% of children went on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which could have adverse long-term effects on development and adjustment.
Dr Cheryll Adams, executive director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said: “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,” she said.
“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,” said Dr Adams.
Dr Camilla Rosan, a clinical psychologist at the Mental Health Foundation and the resource’s lead author, added: “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,” said Dr Rosan.
“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,” she said.
“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,” she noted.