Responding to the needs of children in crisis

This paper explores the issues confronting service providers setting up child and family mental health programmes in conflict, post conflict and disaster areas. Drawing on clinical experience and research in humanitarian settings, it calls for greater attention to the child’s perspective, their individuality and the cultural, social and political context in which they live. It argues that those concerned with the psychopathology of children in crises should widen their frame of reference beyond narrowly defined traumatic reactions to include other mental health and psychosocial issues, including the current problems of daily life and the needs of children with pre-existing psychiatric disorders. It recommends culturally valid means of assessment, the creation of age-appropriate services and training for primary healthcare workers. Children’s mental health needs in crises are varied, complex and intimately connected with their needs for security, food, shelter, education and family connection. This requires holistic, rights-based approaches that can access resources to address basic needs, advocate for security and protection, and recognize and address the needs of the more vulnerable children. This is the approach recommended by the Inter Agency Standing Committee Guidelines for Mental health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings.

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