More emotional support needed for children dealing with traumatic distress following injury

Issue date: 18 December 2015

Child hands

The University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) is one of the partners in a major study about child traumatic stress and providing emotional support to children admitted to hospital after injury. Dr Mark Lyttle from UWE Bristol contributed to the study lead by Monash University in Australia.

Dr Mark Lyttle, a Consultant and Senior Research Fellow in Paediatric Emergency Medicine based at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and UWE Bristol was a co-investigator and co-author on this study examining confidence and knowledge of emergency department staff regarding children's psychological distress after traumatic events. Through his role in PERUKI (Paediatric Emergency Research in the UK and Ireland, the national paediatric emergency medicine research network), he ensured wide distribution of the study materials and a response rate which represented all staff types working in EDs in the UK and Ireland.

Dr Lyttle said, “This is an important area of children's emergency healthcare which has increasingly recognised in recent years, with awareness that best care for children includes psychological as well as physical support in order to reduce problems that may persist beyond the emergency department attendance."

This news release is posted on the Monash University web pages today.

The international survey of hospital emergency department (ED) staff has found a gap in knowledge when dealing with child traumatic stress and providing emotional support to children admitted to hospital after injury.

Through a survey of 2648 hospital ED physicians and nurses from more than 80 countries, an international research team found knowledge and confidence gaps around child traumatic stress and mental health care, and a desire for more education.

Among the millions of children worldwide that sustain injuries requiring hospital care, around one in six go on to develop persistent stress symptoms, such as nightmares, concentration difficulties and negative thoughts, that can impair functioning and development.

Children's distress related to pain, fear and memories of trauma as well as distress amongst family members are all important issues to address, according to recent international guidelines.

Lead researcher Dr Eva Alisic, from the Monash Injury Research Institute, said apart from physical care, medical providers play a key role in supporting injured children from a mental health perspective.

While the respondents saw psychosocial care as part of their job, only half of them knew that toddlers can develop trauma symptoms. About 40 per cent recognised that children who behave calmly in the ED could still develop persistent stress later.

Almost all respondents (93 per cent) wished to receive further education on psychologial care for injured children with a minority confident on educating families about how to access mental health should the need arise.

Only 14 per cent of the ED staff felt confident about educating children and families about traumatic stress reactions in contrast to 75 per cent feeling confident about explaining medical procedures.

Dr Alisic said “Staff members told us they learn about emotional support mostly by trial and error, and by watching colleagues. These results show that we need a more systematic approach to teaching about the emotional aspects of emergency care, starting at medical and nursing school.”

Published in The Journal of Pediatrics, the survey is the first to assess staff through PERN - the international collaboration of Pediatric Emergency Medicine Research Networks.

For a copy of the report please contact the press office.

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