A new report has revealed that three quarters (75%) of children and young people affected by the 2017 Manchester Arena attack in the U.K. were psychologically injured by what happened to them. However, more than one in four (29%) have never received any professional support, with four in ten (40%) saying it was never offered to them.
In fact, while 93% of young survivors felt they needed support in the aftermath of the attack, 70% received no professional help within the first month and 31% received no professional help within the first year.
The report is a collaboration with U.K. disaster response charity, the National Emergencies Trust and researchers at Lancaster University. More than 200 young survivors contributed to the research, all of whom were under 18 at the time of the attack. They have shared experiences of the support they have received since it happened to identify what help will be most beneficial to future young survivors.
Their stories show that while some of the professional help offered by teachers, counselors, doctors and others was incredibly valuable, some of it inadvertently introduced more trauma. Some young people felt their experiences were not validated by adults in positions of care, and that their feelings were dismissed on account of their age.
“The tutor told me that I should take the attack as a positive experience- that this ‘hardship’ would make me a stronger person. He said not many young people experience hardships nowadays. This felt totally insensitive so I didn’t return.”
“… when I asked for help they brushed me off and put it down to just teenage hormones. To then just put me on antidepressants and that was only at 18 and didn’t even think of referring me to a therapist.”
“I poured my heart out to this random doctor who totally dismissed everything I expressed […] she said I was coping better than she would have been because I was 15 and in the two years it would have taken for her to get me into CAMHS I would then be 17 and probably feeling a lot better at that point.”
Conversely, the report points to some examples of incredible pastoral care in schools where individuals went above and beyond to support young survivors’ new needs. It also highlights the value of care provided by trauma-experienced individuals, including specialist trauma counselors, as well as fellow survivors.
“My teacher was there for me when I needed to sit out of lessons or talk about what had affected me that day. It was good because she was there for another two years of my time at school so acted as a constant support that was semi-permanent rather than a specialist that I could only see once or twice.”
“For the first time I met other survivors, and there was a sort of subliminal understanding – I didn’t even have to say what happened to me at Manchester, but I was still greeted with open arms into a new, wonderful, kind safe space, where I was listened to and accepted for who I was.”
The Bee The Difference report from the National Emergencies Trust and Lancaster University proposes six ways that individuals and institutions could improve outcomes for future young survivors of terror:
- Be visible – Ensure support is visible and readily available the onus is not on survivors to find it
- Be compassionate – Listen to, validate and take proactive steps to accommodate young survivors’ new needs
- Be experienced – Make sure that specialized trauma support is accessible and readily available, wherever survivors are based
- Be flexible – Empower young survivors to choose the right support for them
- Be patient – Remember that recovery isn’t linear and can take time
- Be proactive – Act on young survivors’ experiences to turn their challenges into future change
Bee The Difference’s Lead Researcher, Dr Cath Hill, is a Lecturer in Social Work at Lancaster University, co-founder of the support group, Manchester Survivors’ Choir and a member of the National Emergencies Trust’s Survivors Forum.
“The findings show that the simple act of validating young people’s views can make a huge difference to their wellbeing, and is something all adults in positions of care could be more mindful of should the worst happen again,” Dr Hill said. “Equally, introducing the option of an official survivor status for children’s school or college records could prevent them from having to relive their trauma time and again. I hope individuals and organizations reflect on the findings and think about how they could create change.”
Mhairi Sharp, CEO of the National Emergencies Trust, said there has been a glaring gap in knowledge about how U.K. disasters affect children and young people. “Bee The Difference offers valuable direction for emergency funders like us and means we can build on the good work that the We Love Manchester fund started in 2017. We can raise awareness with our partners so that there is less onus on future survivors to seek out support. We can also offer funding to those who would like to set up peer support groups.”
The report adds that young survivors’ recovery can take many years. Six years after the attack almost one in four (22%) young Manchester survivors continue to receive psychological support today, according to the findings.
“We never knew how challenging it would be trying to not only find the support but find help that wasn’t more damaging and triggering,” said young survivor and co-designer of the research project, Ellie Taylor. “This project has given me hope that young survivors will never feel ignored, invalidated, and disregarded ever again. I have met some of the most amazing people and together we are hoping to change history.”
In the coming months, the Bee The Difference project team aims to meet with representatives from government, education, healthcare and the charity sector to discuss ways to act on the research findings.
HRH Prince William, The Prince of Wales, Royal Patron of the National Emergencies Trust, said the report makes clear that young people who have experienced the trauma of terrorism have needs unique to their age. “These are minds that need the space to have their voices heard and feelings acknowledged. We must listen to their stories now, in order to learn for the future. I look forward to seeing the change that it creates.”