Trauma support for Ukraine’s children

Viva is using its Children in Emergencies expertise to respond to the needs of children and families who have been displaced and traumatised by the conflict in Ukraine.

It is estimated that more than five million Ukrainian children need humanitarian assistance, either inside the country or as refugees. They face significant risks whether in conflict zones, on the move, or across borders in a new country.

We are partnering with another Christian charity, Innovista, to build the capacity of local churches in Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova.

We are equipping churches with an adaptation of the Phone Mentoring programme developed two years ago as a response to the Covid pandemic. It is based on ‘Parenting Tips’ developed in partnership with the World Health Organisation, Oxford University, Unicef and others.

The mentoring has been redeveloped for different settings – in a conflict zone, on the move or for those settled in a different place. Much like the Covid materials, it still deals with how to manage your mental health, how to stay safe and avoid violence at home, and how to help your child with learning. Some extra content has been added around child protection risks, like trafficking, and how parents can recognise what they’ve been through before talking to their children about it.

It is designed to be delivered over six weeks through support group settings and in meetings or phone calls with individual families. Each conversation or call explores key messages and encourages the family to take practical actions each week to put these into practice.

A mobile phone app is being developed to record feedback and learning through the programme and it is being translated into Ukrainian and Russian.

During a conflict or disaster, children become exposed to additional protection risks, including physical dangers, separation from family, and increased risk of abuse. Children also face risks to their mental health and psychological distress when they experience a sudden change in location, are living in danger, or especially when separated from their family.

In these situations, the local church is often one of the first to act, providing for people’s basic needs, giving food, water, shelter and medicines. However, these volunteers can often be unaware of the protection issues that children face, and how they can support people who have been through traumatic experiences.

Having built up expertise in the area of Children in Emergencies in countries such as the Philippines and Lebanon/Syria over the years, Viva is well-placed to provide training about safeguarding and psychosocial care for children, and holistic support for parents and caregivers in times of crisis.

More recently, as a response to the Covid pandemic, Viva developed its original Phone Mentoring programme, and this has now reached nearly 14,000 families in 28 countries, impacting 46,000 children.

In May, Kezia M’Clelland, our Children in Emergencies Specialist, visited Moldova with Innovista staff:

“Moldova is a really small country and one of the poorest in Europe. They have received a large number of refugees but lack resources to support them. I listened to the team there to find out more about the situation and what they are doing. A lot of refugees I met had come from a big city but were now in a village – this was quite a big change for them.

“It was great to talk to children. They spoke about the place they were – what they liked and what they didn’t like. One of the big issues is learning. They’re still mostly learning online from their school in Ukraine, which is great, but that’s really difficult to keep up with at the moment, being so distanced from it and not always having access to phones. One child said, ‘We had years of that through Covid, and now we have it with war.’

“There are lots of needs for children. Many groups are working with adults but are not always thinking of children so that feels like a gap. Lots of people in the community want to respond but don’t always know how to do that, especially on a deeper level. The visit confirmed to me that our redeveloped mentoring sessions will be really relevant.”