Recovery and mental survival as children prepare for a phased return to school

Media Release:

Children’s mental health charity Kids Inspire is preparing for an increase in demand as the ‘new normal’ phased return to school is proposed across the country.  

Since the start of the pandemic, Kids Inspire has responded by increasing capacity hosting 400 plus online sessions per week as demand for its specialist therapeutic services increased. Alongside children and families, services have also been extended to key workers, to offer support during extraordinary times.  

In a paper written for local authority leaders about the response and recovery phase of the pandemic and the impact on children’s mental health, Sue Bell Clinical Director of Kids Inspire and Dimitra Theodoropoulou, Clinical Impact Manager emphasised that a return to school will likely be a traumatic experience for many children and young people.

While this is an unprecedented pandemic, in their paper the experienced mental health and trauma therapists drew from both academic texts, as well as from their own knowledge and experience:

“There seems to be a consensus that the trauma – during and after the pandemic- will be significant and with no certainty as to what extent the actual impact will be, it is essential that we are prepared. We cannot underestimate the need for specialist support if those who have physically survived COVID-19 are going to also recover and survive mentally.”

The paper titled ‘COVID-19 Pandemic and the Impact on the mental health of Children and Young People’,referred to:

“The common denominator in all 350 open cases at Kids Inspire, is the lack of sense of security in all levels that is so needed for children to survive and thrive. In today’s threatening situation children and young people will return to schools, having survived a global pandemic; however, it is uncertain how they will be able to make the transition from survive to thrive and how long it will take for their brain and nervous system to switch off from the survival loop (Fight, Flight and Freeze).”

Warnings of such impact and how the system may fail to respond to the children’s needs during a pandemic were highlighted by Bruce-Barrett et al (2007) in their article ‘Pandemic Influenza Planning for Children and Youth: Who’s Looking Out for Our Kids?’ written after the experience of previous pandemic1 similar to COVID-19. They warn:

“No amount of planning prior to a pandemic can fully prevent the uncertainty, loss and grief that a pandemic will wreak. Indeed, the social, psychological and financial disarray attendant upon a pandemic will far exceed the physical impact.” (Bruce-Barrett et al 2007)

Not every child is feeling anxious or depressed in lockdown. In fact, some children who found school stressful – often due to negative learning experiences, their own special needs and bullying – are finding lockdown, in comparison, a calming experience and are even thriving.

In the closing sentiment of the paper, Sue and Dimitra who have 50 years combined childhood trauma practice between them, said:

“Schools can provide a safe environment for children to return to when the crisis is over. However, this will not be a smooth transition. Things cannot and will not go back to normal by themselves.”

This informed paper was shared with the local authority early in the response phase of the Coronavirus. Sue and Dimitra welcome the findings being shared as their contribution to raising awareness during Mental Health Week 18-24 May 2020.