Child survivors of the Manchester Arena bomb are still suffering from the attack five years on, with some “re-traumatised” by “really shocking examples of poor support” provided by schools and GPs, a researcher has found.
Some have been made to take part in exercises in class without warning, involving how and where to hide if a gunman enters their school, according to Dr Cath Hill, a social worker and lecturer at Lancaster University leading research into the support provided after the 2017 attack.
Others have struggled to access psychological support, despite problems with sleeping and acute anxiety – particularly those not physically hurt by Salman Abedi’s suicide bomb, which killed 22 people and injured 260 others.
Sunday will mark five years since the attack. Hill was at the arena on 22 May 2017 for the Ariana Grande concert with her then 10-year-old son. They escaped physically unscathed but with “psychological scars which occur when you fear for your life and survive when others have died”.
To cope with the trauma and the guilt that followed, she set up the Manchester Survivors Choir, offering singing therapy for others in the same position. About 100 survivors have sung with the group since 2018, including the grandfather of Olivia Campbell-Hardy, who died in the bombing aged just 15.
Hill is soon to launch Bee the Difference, a research project co-designed with nine of the young survivors and supported by the National Emergencies Trust and Lancaster University. Those involved include Lucy Jarvis, who at the age of 17 almost bled to death after lying on the floor after the attack for two hours, and Catherine Burke, who was just 10 when she suffered shrapnel wounds, broke a leg and lost her hearing in one ear.
Launching in July at the start of the school summer holidays, the project will invite the many thousands of survivors of the Manchester Arena attack to fill in a questionnaire about the support they received, in order to improve the response to future attacks.
From talking to other survivors, Hill was concerned to learn that the mental health support offered was “very, very patchy, if not overall lacking for the majority of young people”. She heard some “really shocking examples of really poor support, and support re-traumatised children along the way”.
One girl was left alone in the school’s pastoral room a few days after the attack with the radio playing news about the attack, said Hill. “There are other examples of young people in schools doing some sort of drills for if there was a significant event in the school, and not being warned. They were told to hide under desks and in cupboards to prepare for an attack,” she added.
But another girl, who attended a private school, said she got help the day after the attack from her school’s in-house counsellor.
Abi Quinn, who was 12 when she went to the Ariane Grande concert, also helped design Bee the Difference. She had to wait more than six months for counselling and only received it after her mum wrote to their local MP in Liverpool. “I couldn’t sleep at night and was constantly in fear about it happening again,” she said. An unsympathetic GP made her feel unworthy of support. “She was like, ‘Oh, you weren’t injured, you’ll be fine’. I felt pushed aside.”
She said she wanted to help those who had yet to receive support and to help others “if, God forbid, it happens again”.
Hill said: “If another attack that targeted young people happened again, today, I’m not certain how much we’ve learned. I’m sure some individuals have learned about how to support children and young people, perhaps some school teachers and some GPS, but there isn’t a general sense of learning within the community and with disasters and emergency planning.”