Pandemic or war, children growing up alone need support for their mental well-being

Pandemic or war, children growing up alone need support for their mental well-being

Representative image. Wikimedia Commons

Worldwide, a staggering 10.5 million children have lost their parents or caregivers to COVID-19, and 7.5 million have been orphaned. The resilience of nations and communities has been tested to the max. In India, a report by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) identified 147,773 children who lost a parent due to COVID-19. Another 10,600 children lost their parents at the peak of the pandemic between April 1, 2020 and March 15, 2022.

The trauma of losing a parent or caregiver is catastrophic for a child. Without the safety of a family or trusted adults, children are at risk of neglect, interruption of their education, and even abuse and trafficking. In some cases, the lack of stable parental care can lead to child marriages and teenage pregnancies. Even when children do not face such risks directly, much is brewing below the surface. Fear, anxiety, and depression are predominant emotions, as is grief and even survivor’s guilt.

All of us, including civil society organizations, governments, corporations and other partners, have a duty to care for children who have lost parental care or are at risk of losing it, and a critical part of that support It’s about taking care of your mental health. -be of the children and their caregivers.

What can we do together to support children?

  1. Expand the network of mental health services for caregivers: When parents and caregivers don’t have the resources they need to manage their own stress, it can affect their ability to care for their children. Investing in community-based mental health services for adults will help them be the stable and supportive presence children need.
  1. Reduce stigma around seeking mental health services: In a UNICEF survey, only 41 per cent of young people in India said it is ‘good’ to seek support for mental health problems, compared to an average of 83 per cent in several other countries. Seeking mental health support needs to be normalized. The fact that there are now more conversations around mental health is a silver lining to the pandemic. Furthermore, support for mental well-being is increasingly at the heart of emergency response services provided by leading agencies such as UNICEF and SOS Children’s Villages. For example, we are seeing the growing importance of mental health and psychosocial care in response to humanitarian crises such as the war in Ukraine.
  2. Make sure care is trauma-informed: Research shows that 75 percent of children in alternative care have experienced trauma prior to placement in alternative care. This trauma hinders their development and impacts their response to day-to-day events or conflicts. Failure to adequately treat trauma increases protection risks. So for children in alternative care, their caregivers need specialized training to fully support children and youth with traumatic experiences.
  1. Invest more in supporting families to stay together: Unemployment, declining income, job insecurity, diminishing livelihood options, families falling into debt, and poverty can be multiple factors that can put pressure on an already fragile family unit. Internal displacement and migration can also tear families apart, exacerbating pressure on mental health. We must increase investments to strengthen and increase support for these families who are the root cause of stress, including creating employment opportunities, increasing access to health care, and ensuring food security.
  1. Safeguard the most disadvantaged groups: Children with disabilities who have lost or are at risk of losing parental care are more likely to be discriminated against and experience mental health problems as a result. These children need tailored policies and measures to remove barriers to their development. Another subgroup that needs special measures is children who identify as LGBTQIA. They must also be provided with a safe and supportive environment to ensure their mental health.
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The challenge of ensuring children’s mental health is complex and profound. Global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, economic hardship, and military conflict have put all children and families under pressure, and the stress is multiplied many times over for children who have lost or are at risk of losing care. from his parents. The world community must step up to support them.

The author is the first Executive Director of SOS Children’s Villages International, a leading organization working globally to ensure that children grow up with the bonds they need to become themselves. Views are personal.

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