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Statement from Anna Freud on Israel-Gaza

Our statement on recent events and their impact on children and young people.

The tragic events in Israel and Gaza will lead to significant trauma and mental scarring for many children and young people in the region and around the globe. Access to online tools for parents and carers will help to start conversations around supporting children and young people through these difficult events and make sure that mental health and wellbeing is prioritised.

Clinicians at Anna Freud are concerned about the significant emotional and physical suffering that many children and young people in the conflict zone may experience because of the events that have escalated in the last few days and continue to unfold. We also appreciate that many people who are not directly affected may be emotionally impacted indirectly by seeing the trauma unfold both on broadcast and social media.

Specialist online support resources can have a role to play in helping adults support affected children and young people. The UK Trauma Council, with a project of Anna Freud, has developed free, evidence-based resources to support schools, colleges and practitioners working with traumatically bereaved children and young people and these can be accessed online. The UK Trauma Council is currently producing a dedicated portfolio of free resources to support adults working with children and young people directly affected by war and conflict. These will be released in the coming weeks.

Research has shown that exposure to traumatic events can increase the risk of later mental health problems and difficulties in personal and social relationships. However, through improved understanding, appropriate support and timely intervention, it is possible to reduce the negative impact of such events on children and young people.

Parents concerned about the indirect impact of these traumatic events on broadcast and social media may wish to read the article by Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Dr Sheila Redfern. She gives tips around sharing and discussing information about difficult and distressing news stories, such as the Israel/Gaza situation. This guide has been produced in association with BBC Bitesize and can help children and young people make sense of the world through discussion with trusted adults.

Professor Peter Fonagy OBE, Chief Executive of Anna Freud said:

“Anna Freud is committed to using our voice when we feel children’s lives and wellbeing are at risk.

“At Anna Freud we see not just the immediate suffering caused, but we are also deeply aware of the displacement, terror and long-term damage that conflict can have on mental health, particularly for children, sometimes for generations to come.

“Of course, we’re concerned for everyone who is affected by these tragic events and we want all parties to end fighting and work towards a peaceful resolution.

“Children can be very badly affected by being indirectly exposed to terrifying violent events and this will potentially be the case here. I think we must recognise that parents and carers have a responsibility to protect their children at this point from potential exposure from traumatising materials as well as situations that are likely to be highly polarised.

“I would urge parents and carers in the UK and abroad to make use of our resources for trauma and our guides to help talk about difficult events such as the current situation in the Middle East. Access to clinical support can be limited during times of conflict so online resources can help to fill this gap in services.

“Recent distressing events around the globe highlight that many children and families continually face such challenges, often unnoticed. We hope our resources will assist all traumatised families, caregivers, and young people, as well as those directly affected by the current news events.”

Clinicians at Anna Freud have online resources to support families and practitioners alongside encouraging open discussions about difficult subjects with children and young people.

Dr Sheila Redfern, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Anna Freud said:

“In talking about the difficult news events, such as this week in Israel and Gaza, with your child, it’s important to strike a balance between not making them overly anxious and not sugar-coating realistic news. Young people are already more than aware of the situation and will have lots of sources of information, from phone APPs to playground conversations. Our children and young people are often more resilient than parents or carers realise and want you to be honest.

“Being honest about a situation can be reassuring to a child – especially when you empathise and share their feelings. Say something like, ‘Actually, it’s scary, isn’t it - when we don’t know what’s going to happen? I’m not certain either, but we’re not on our own.’

“Additionally, parents and carers need to model to their children they can manage their own worries by talking to friends and adult family members, and their children aren’t responsible for their parents. It helps for parents to model calm and normality around children as much as possible. When they see an adult coping normally, it’s highly likely they will feel much more able to manage their own worries.

“Support your child to be sensitive about what they say around their friends as there may be someone in their network who has family affected by the conflict.”

More information and support can be found for children and young people on Anna Freud’s website or the UK Trauma Council. A range of materials for schools and teachers to support children and young people going through traumatic experiences can be found online including:

Disasters and collective trauma: Mentally Healthy Schools

About the UK Trauma Council

The UK Trauma Council (UKTC) is a group of leading experts, drawn from a variety of disciplines across all four nations of the UK. We are the first UK-wide platform bringing together expertise in research, practice, policy and lived experience in the field of childhood trauma. The UKTC is hosted and supported by Anna Freud and produces free, evidence-based resources for frontline professionals and carers supporting children and young people impacted by trauma.

About Anna Freud

Anna Freud is a charity bringing together research, clinical expertise, and training to build the mental wellbeing of future generations. Building on 70 years’ experience, we turn research into practice to give more children and young people the help they need, when they need it. At Anna Freud, neuroscientists and practitioners in mental health, social care and education work together with children and young people to transform mental health for children, young people and their families.