Children of war

Ella Rhodes reports.

A psychologist will launch a new programme of joint research projects with the aim of creating interventions to help children whose mental health has been ravaged by the effects of war. The devastating trauma that can affect young minds has been the subject of extensive research by Dr Panos Vostanis (University of Leicester), who launched a cross-cultural research group in November.

Vostanis’s work has observed how war affects children directly through exposure, violence, witnessing and associated fear, through its impact on parents and support networks like communities and schools, and through its aftermath of poverty, displacements and lack of basic needs. Professor Vostanis said: ‘We now have sufficient evidence on the devastating effects of war and other conflicts on children worldwide. We also have increasing access to effective approaches in helping children in the most remote parts of the planet.’

The joint research projects, led by the University of Leicester with collaboration from centres in eight other countries, will look into a number of different mental health problems and form part of the global World Awareness for Children in Trauma (WACIT) campaign. The programme will focus on promoting child wellbeing by integrating cultural diversity in schools and clinical and community settings such as orphanages.

The launch started with a conference in November entitled ‘Promoting Children’s Health, Development and Wellbeing: Integrating Cultural Diversity’ at the State Islamic University Jakarta, with which the University of Leicester signed a memorandum of understanding last year. During the event Vostanis presented recent research findings from the Greenwood Institute child mental health group at the University of Leicester on how different traumatic events such as war and ethnic conflict affect children, he told The Psychologist: ‘Children express their distress emotionally through nightmares, extreme anxiety, low mood and negative thoughts; but also through aggression, and not functioning with everyday life.’

During Vostanis’s visit to Jakarta, a training model was also implemented with volunteers and staff of non-governmental organisations in the city, on helping children who have experienced trauma and establishing sustainable networks. Vostanis added:

‘The vision of WACIT is to build on our knowledge and experience, and to develop programmes that can be easily used internationally by charities and statutory organisations across different settings and circumstances.’ 

- Read a blog post from Vostanis’s visit to Jakarta and more information on WACIT.

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