Public Health England (PHE) has launched a psychological first aid training course for anyone who works with or cares for children and young people aged up to 25.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on children, with many reporting that it has made them feel more stressed, lonely, and worried.
The online Psychological First Aid (PFA) course offers training on how to provide practical and emotional support to children and young people affected by emergencies or crisis situations.
Commenting on the training course, Clare Perkins, director of the Mental Health Programme at PHE explained how children are amongst the worse impacted by the significant disruption caused by the pandemic, due to being stuck at home and unable to interact with friends.
Clare said: ‘Children and young people will react to the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways. The PFA training course will help professionals, volunteers, parents, and carers better identify the signs of those who are struggling and give them timely effective support that is right for them – helping them feel safe and able to help themselves.’
The course is available for free to all frontline workers such as teachers, health and social workers, charity and community volunteers, and anyone who cares for or is regularly in contact with children and young people aged up to 25, including parents and caregivers.
Individuals who complete the training will be better equipped to recognise children who are anxious, feeling lonely or are in distress, and provide the right type of support to help them feel safe and connected.
Last March, ChildLine reported an ‘unprecedented’ rise in the number of calls from distressed young people struggling to deal with the pandemic, and there are mounting concerns that the COVID-19 crisis will further worsen the mental health of young people.
Philip Adkins, National IAPT Clinical Lead at Vita Health Group, explains that is natural for children and young people to feel lonely as a result of lockdown, but many may not recognise what it is they are feeling or may feel too embarrassed to talk about it.
Adkins said: ‘Living in lockdown removes the natural pathways of connection that children are used to, and indeed, thrive on. Children could be feeling lonely and isolated due to the deprived interaction with extended family and friends. As a parent, it is important to familiarise yourself with the warning signs, so you can take the appropriate steps to stave off their loneliness.
‘There is little parents can do to remove the barriers that exist for their children when it comes to participating fully in social life. As a parent, it is beneficial to accept that these barriers are immovable and out of your control. Instead, the key is to focus your energy on creating experiences that will provide your children with positive social connections, like virtual playdates with family and friends. Investing time in developing a secure connection with your child, with one-to-one activities where you are fully present, will also help their resilience and reduce their fears during these challenging times.’
Earlier this month, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published figures analysing children’s online behaviour in England and Wales for the year to last March.
The results highlighted the significant risks of being online for children; one in six children spoke to someone they had never met in person and 5% subsequently met up with someone they had only spoken to online.
Although the research pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers warned that the numbers for the year ending March 2021 are expected to be higher because children have spent much of the last year indoors.
The ONS commented it was likely that the COVID-19 pandemic ‘has had a substantial impact on the degree to which children are involved in these online activities, given the probable increase in the time children spend online.’
Adkins continues: ‘School closures, social distancing requirements, and the short winter days all limit a child’s ability to interact and there is no escaping that socialising is largely being maintained in the digital domain. Excessive online activity – outside the academic realm – can lead to increased levels of psychological stress in children and young people.
‘There’s no question about it; the internet can be a useful tool for reducing loneliness, particularly when it is used as a route to enhancing existing relationships and forging new social connections. The danger is when children use social technologies to escape and withdraw from social interaction, which can contribute to feelings of loneliness and distress.’
On completion of the three-week course, participants will have an understanding of what PFA is, be able to identify who would benefit from support, how best to give help across the different age groups, and also for those who might need extra support because of different needs.