Targeted psychosocial support for children

Psychosocial support programs for children aim to establish a sense of stability and restore social protection. Psychosocial programs build support systems that help children to positively cope and build resilience. Emergencies significantly increase vulnerability for children and their families by disrupting protective supports. Emergencies also intensify the vulnerabilities that existed in a community prior to a crisis.

To read about a targeted psychosocial support programme for children in action, click on the picture below:

Operation Safe, CarNet Nepal

When should we use a targeted psychosocial support programme for children?

After an emergency, almost all children will experience changes in behaviour, thoughts, emotions and relationships. Signs of distress in children after an emergency are expected and normal. Through family and community supports that provide children with basic needs, security and the restoration of normal rhythms of life, most children adapt and live normal, healthy lives. Ensuring that family and community supports are restored and strengthened is a critical foundation to any psychosocial intervention. Children are resilient, even in the face of significant adversity, and most children in an emergency will positively cope when provided with basic psychosocial supports.

All children in emergencies should receive psychosocial support, but some children will need additional, targeted psychosocial support to overcome distress. A small percentage of children will be more severely impacted by the crisis. Targeted psychosocial support activities can help to address these children’s needs and strengthen their protective factors.

Targeted psychosocial support is for children after an emergency who are:

  • Struggling to cope within their existing care network (still showing signs of distress)
  • Not progressing in terms of their development
  • Unable to function as well as their peers
  • In need of activities that address their psychosocial needs more directly
  • Requires trained and experienced staff

Children who show normal signs of distress, requiring some support to return to pre-emergency behavior

Resources Needed

The key resources needed are trained and equipped staff or volunteers. A higher level of training and experience is needed to successfully implement PSS activities.

How to set up a targeted psychosocial support programme

Targeted psychosocial support for children in emergencies can take many forms, but include activities such as the following:

  • Structured support groups for children that are struggling to positively cope.
  • Equip community workers to provide basic, non-clinical support and counselling.
  • Referral services to other service providers
  • Support groups for caregivers/teachers
  • Case Management
  • Family/Home Visits
  • Family Reunification
  • Structured Play Activities
  • Psychological First Aid
  • Peer Support
  • Mentoring
Train community-based workers, families, and community members on how to identify when a child is struggling to cope

This training should include:

  1. Information on how to recognize the signs of psychosocial distress
  2. Basics of child development and development milestones
  3. Supportive communication
Mapping services and building partnerships
  • Map available resources and services that exist within the community, and build relationships with trusted partners to facilitate referrals.
Training for community-based psychosocial workers
  • Train community-based psychosocial workers on how to provide targeted PSS. This could include existing staff and volunteers of child protection activities, schools, and other service providers.

Further information

Psychosocial support programmes should be informed by the IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings

IASC Core Principles:
  • Human rights and equity
  • Participation
  • Do No Harm
  • Building on available resources and capacities
  • Integrated support systems
  • Multi-layered supports
Additional Principles:
  • Avoid specific targeting of different groups (i.e. survivors of sexual violence)
  • Integrate supports into wider systems (e.g. general health services; existing community support mechanisms)
  • Adhere to the principles of confidentiality, safety and security, respect and non-discrimination

Monitoring and Evaluation

For support with developing monitoring and evaluation for a psychosocial support project, see:

Tools and resources

Additional tools and resources on targeted psychosocial support for children are available here

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