Claire J Starrs & Rachel J Grohbrugge
WHEN ADULTS FIGHT, CHILDREN SUFFER. This is never more true than during armed conflict. Of the approximate 43 million Ukrainian population, 8.75 million are aged between 0-19 years (UN, 2022). Furthermore, an estimated 80,000 births are predicted for the next 3 months (IRC, 2022). As of the second week of the current conflict, the UNHCR estimates that over 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine, and UNICEF suggests this includes over 1.5 million children and teens. Predictions for total population displacement are currently forecast to be 7 million or more for internal displacement and an additional 5 million refugees, the vast majority of whom will be women and children (Associated Press, 2022).
For those of us who are lucky enough to never have had to experience war directly, it is hard to imagine the seemingly impossible decision of whether to stay or to go, as both are fraught with the inevitability of traumatizing experiences. In this article, we hope to provide a brief overview of the impacts for children and teens, the protective interventions happening on the ground, and some of the recommendations for providing psychosocial support to this population. Finally, we will also address recommendations for talking about violence and war with the youth in our lives, be they our own children, or our young clients, and their families.
Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. The effects of armed conflict on children are both direct and indirect. Direct impacts comprise physical injury, maiming, and death, as well as psychological distress including anxiety, PTSD, and depression (Attanayake et al., 2009). Young children (0-6 years) show increased rates of psychosomatic symptoms, as well as increased anxiety, fear, startling, attention seeking, temper tantrums, sadness, and crying, and may also be more aggressive or withdrawn (Slone et al., 2016). The disruption to education and healthcare, and economic sanctions leading to increased poverty and food insecurity, also directly impact child health and development. The mass destruction of infrastructure means that these impacts last long after the official end to hostilities. Additionally, conflict creates conditions that compromise key public health functions, such as vaccine delivery, health surveillance, and disease management, resulting in increased rates of infectious disease transmission and the reemergence of previously eradicated, vaccine-preventable diseases (Akil & Ahmad, 2016). It is unknown at this time, how the current displacement of millions of people will interact with the ongoing pandemic.