Helping Children who Suffered Trauma across the World

Posted by ap507 at Jul 20, 2015 01:40 PM |
Professor Panos Vostanis outlines the International Child Mental Health Trail Blazer campaign
Helping Children who Suffered Trauma across the World

Internally displaced children’s performance is supremely conducted by an older girl at a shanty settlement outside Nakuru in Kenya

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In any society, about one in ten children and young people up to the age of 18 years suffer from mental health problems (emotional, behavioural, developmental problems; or mental illness). These rates can rise up to 40%, or even higher, if children have experienced traumatic events such as abuse and neglect, war, being raised in care or living on the streets.

Despite the increasing public and media awareness of the impact and suffering that child trauma causes, and which is likely to persist in later life in the absence of help, there is also still substantial fear and stigma of mental ill health, as well as discrimination, which hinders efforts to promote children’s well-being. For example, many countries do not have child mental health policies or services; whilst others do not have legal frameworks on how to protect children most in need.

Research advances, including from our child mental health group at the Greenwood Institute of Child Health, University of Leicester, have enhanced our understanding of the extent and nature of child mental health problems among vulnerable children such as those in public care, in contact with the courts, refugees and homeless. We also know a lot about the factors that place these children at risk, like their parents’ mental health and capacity to care for them, and how these risk factors impact on them.

There is less, albeit evolving evidence on what protects children in the face of trauma, which has informed ways of helping even in the most difficult life circumstances.

Such interventions are particularly difficult to implement in low income countries or in societies that have been widely affected by natural or human-inflicted disasters.

As no single country can provide all answers and services required, even if their health and welfare systems are relatively well resourced, sharing knowledge, lessons learned and solutions can have a dramatic and large-scale impact on children, particularly those living in deprived communities and high risk environments. This international perspective, which is central to the University of Leicester strategy, has also driven our child mental health research over the years, with a plethora of high calibre postgraduate students, visiting and collaborating researchers, teachers and practitioners.

Children from tribal villages rehearsing for India’s Republic Day
Examples of such research include the impact of an earthquake in Iran, war conflict in Gaza and socioeconomic deprivation in Pakistan. Our current studies include the evaluation of child protection training in Saudi Arabia, the mental health needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey, and an intervention for children victims of ethnic conflict in Kenya.

The consolidation of our international partnerships with academic centres, services and NGOs, as well as our outputs, enabled us to move to the next phase of our international child trauma programme, which we called ‘International Child Mental Health Trail Blazer’ and consisted of a number of visits, training and new collaborations in India (Mumbai), Turkey (Istanbul and Kocaeli), Qatar (Doha),  Kenya (Nakuru and Nairobi) and Iran (Tehran and Isfhan)

This was a great success in establishing communities’ views on how children can be best helped, and in establishing how to set up child trauma centres with limited resources.

The lessons of the International Child Mental Health Trail Blazer can be applied to generate wider awareness and sustainable support in other countries, and for even more remote and marginalised child populations. For this reason, our collaborations are extending to traumatised child populations in Rwanda, Libya and Indonesia, with further projects and visits planned for 2015.

The third phase of this ambitious international programme is to raise awareness, establish networks, develop and deliver training, and obtain research evidence in a global campaign led by the University of Leicester - the World Awareness for Children in Trauma (WACIT). So far, a number of partners have joined this initiative such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Anna Freud Centre and the Evidence-Based Child Mental Health Practice Unit in London.

We extend our invitation to partners, sponsors and individuals who wish to be actively involved in this ground-breaking initiative that can help improve children’s lives in the most adverse conditions, by contacting me at

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