Approaches to providing psycho-social support for teachers and other school staff in protracted conflict situations

Helpdesk Query:

What has worked/hasn’t worked in helping children and young people (boys and girls) to protect and promote their well-being and that of others by, for example, identifying risks and responses to stress, and how their impact can be managed or mitigated? (Well-being is understood to include physical safety, mental resilience, ability to maintain social relations, and a continuing capacity to learn).

What are considered to be the core, essential components of psycho-social support and social and emotional learning? What distinctions should be made between activities that can be carried out in schools, during school hours and by regular teachers and activities that should be undertaken out of school, or after school in recreational or child-friendly spaces or school clubs, and/or conducted by trained specialists?

Summary:

Whilst the provision of psychosocial activities is regularly mentioned in documents referring to the humanitarian response to education, there is a dearth of literature that refers to exactly what these programmes consist of, and how effective they are.

There is, however, widespread recognition of the importance of providing psycho-social interventions to counter the impact of traumatisation on children and youth’s well-being and mental health, which can manifest in depression, shame, withdrawal or aggression.

A psychosocial approach moves away from focusing on individual clinically based diagnoses to focusing on holistic, broad-based preventative programmes that promote resilience and develop coping strategies across the entire affected group. This leads to improvements in general stress related symptoms among those with and without specific disorders, and can thereby significantly reduce the numbers of those that do require any specialist intervention. It is therefore important that psycho-social programmes are implemented through a complementary, integrated and multisectoral approach.

A return to ‘normal’ routine is seen as a key intervention for children, including educational and recreational activities. Teachers and other care-workers are the main means through which this type of support can be provided, and programmes can be delivered as an integral part of the curriculum or through sport, art and other recreational activities. It is recognised that programmes need to adapt according to the context, culture and circumstances. Incorporating psycho-social issues as an integral part of training for teachers and other care-workers, rather than as a standalone subject or module, and providing follow-up and feedback has been shown to be most effective in implementation.

Whilst it is now widely accepted that early psychosocial interventions must be an integral part of humanitarian assistance, there is widespread recognition that there remains a need to build a
stronger evidence for such work. Reports suggest more extensive and robust evaluations are required to develop a better understanding of what approaches to psycho-social support are the most effective, and in which situations. Despite an increasing number of programmes supporting conflict affected areas, many programmes remain unevaluated, or are evaluated without the use of transparent or rigorous methods.

This means little is known regarding the impact of education in emergency programmes in general, or specific programme components that support children’s wellbeing. Identified gaps in the evidence base include the relationship between wellbeing and mental health, and academic and learning outcomes, which is reasonably well-documented in non-emergency contexts, but not in humanitarian contexts. There is also a need to identify how psychosocial programmes impact on the ongoing stressors which also have an effect on well-being.

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