Grenfell fire: Almost 1,500 children treated for trauma over disaster - with bonfires and candles 'triggering' survivors

·4-min read

Almost 1,500 children have been treated for trauma over the Grenfell fire, figures obtained by Sky News show.

A total of 6,247 people have been referred to the dedicated NHS Grenfell Health and Wellbeing service and 1,476 of those are children.

Sara Chebiouni was only eight years old when the fire at the tower block killed five members of her family and destroyed her home.

Five years on, she has weekly therapy to help her process her loss.

"Before I used to love to go outside and be energetic but now I feel like I am in a different mood, a dull setting," she said.

"Most people think I am being annoying or rude but it's not that. I just don't have the energy."

Sara keeps the few things that survived the fire in a special memory box which includes the key to the door of her flat in the tower, a bracelet she made for her mum and a bag of marbles her eight-year-old cousin, Mehdi, used to play with.

Holding out a marble in her hand, she said: "I have kept his marbles, they have lost their shine a bit but it doesn't matter. It's nice that he touched them."

She added: "He was such a collector, he liked collecting toys from McDonald's. His laugh was very contagious.

"Even when his jokes weren't even that funny you would laugh because he did. What I miss most is how we would play on his landing 24/7."

Mehdi El-Wahabi lived in flat 182 on the 21st floor of Grenfell Tower.

He died alongside his father Abdulaziz, mother Faouzia, brother Yasin, aged 20, and sister Nur Huda, 15.

They are among the 72 people who lost their lives on 14 June 2017.

'A bonfire or candles on a birthday cake can be quite triggering'

Dr Sara Northey runs therapy for children and young people at the dedicated NHS Grenfell Health and Wellbeing service. She described the scale of trauma as "unprecedented".

"This is an unusual trauma as it affected a whole community and is definitely ongoing," she said.

"Grief doesn't just go away. But what is striking is also the strength people have in the relationships here and the connection people have."

She said the symptoms are varied.

"At the heart of the trauma is a shattering of safety. We have seen a lot of avoidance of things that remind children of fire.

"A bonfire or candles on a birthday cake can be quite triggering. Some are worried about electronics in the home and need to check things are switched off.

"Children are being, kind of, hyperaware of safety in a way that most children don't have to be."

Dr Northey is keen to stress that the number of children they have seen doesn't show the whole picture.

Many more children have been supported in other settings such as in schools or by grassroots organisations.

Children 'introverted, aggressive or sad' after fire

Solidarity Sports is a charity which has helped children recover through the power of play.

Chief executive Sean Mendez says they are still seeing a lot of issues.

He said: "After the fire we had some children who were really introverted, others were aggressive or sad. We gave the children respect and space to allow them to grieve in their own way.

"The only way you can compare the trauma the families of Grenfell have been through is to compare it to a warzone.

"They lost everything, people, relatives, all of their belongings.

"It was awful. We have done our best to try and make them heal but at the same time that is difficult when there hasn't been any justice.

"We know this is just prolonging the trauma and making the children relive it constantly."

Sean and his team create positive memories for the children by funding special activities and trips, including one to Disneyland Paris. This is to honour a family they lost in the fire.

He said: "We lost a family-of-five, so we set up the Hashim family legacy to remember them. Firdaws, who was 12, had a dream to go to Disneyland so we wanted to make her dream come true.

"It is important to remember the 72 people who died as personalities and characters, not statistics. And ensure they are never forgotten."