First Aid For The Mind: Safeguarding Ukraine’s Refugee Children

April 6, 2022

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War Child is providing protection and psychological first aid to children, parents and caretakers who fled the war in Ukraine. The response is focusing on Moldova which has received more refugees per capita than any other country to date.

Safe Spaces

As a result of the crisis, 50,000 children are in urgent need of support. Refugees – the vast majority women and children – continue to cross the border. They are seeking shelter in private homes and hastily transformed schools, student dorms and holiday camps across Moldova.

War Child is supporting the Moldovan organisation for Child, Family and Community (CCF) in setting up safe spaces and training staff in 20 reception centres and local shelters. Here, mothers can feed their babies and children and youth can play and unwind. As we roll out our response there will be an added emphasis on the protection of women and children - in particular teenage girls who are at increased risk of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse. CCF is turning to social media groups to prevent trafficking and offer a ‘listening ear’ - a safe yet easily accessible environment.

Terrible Experiences

The war in Ukraine continues to result in mass civilian casualties. Children have been separated from their fathers, brothers and other male relatives as well as their friends and homes. Not only this, they have also come up close and personal with armed violence: nerve-shattering air raid sirens, gunshots, explosions and even the death of loved ones.

Many fled with only a few personal belongings - denied the comfort that a favourite toy or hoodie can bring. The psychological effects of these terrible experiences take time to take hold - frequently manifesting themselves in the days after children have finally made it to safety.

War Child's Psychological First Aid Team Reaches Moldova

War Child is supporting and training mobile teams within the National Center for Prevention of Child Abuse (CNPAC) to provide psychological first aid to children and mothers in the same shelters. The teams consist of psychologists, social workers and emergency support staff. Together, they are working around the clock to engage children in games and activities - specially designed to assess their state of mind and help them let go of painful emotions. During these sessions, these individuals also provide practical information and support to parents - including the referral of children to more specialized services where needed.

Speak About Emotions

Refugee children often feel a responsibility to behave like adults - in the absence of their father, who else will support their mother and younger siblings? “It is extremely important to give children the opportunity to speak about their emotions”, says psychologist Alexandru Cascaval. “I see that you are feeling sad. I understand you are sad. It is normal to be sad; to be afraid.”

His team travels across central Moldova to visit shelters - and is able to support up to 40 children in a single day.

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Children's drawings tell our team about their experiences and state of mind

Photo: Michael Jessurun

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A child who fled the war in Ukraine is asked to draw a house where they feel safe

Photo: Michael Jessurun

Stepping Up Our Support

Moldova is not the only country struggling to provide support for the refugees. Over four million people have fled Ukraine arriving in various parts of Europe. Half of them are children.

War Child is stepping up its response to include Romania and Poland as well as other European countries. With local and international partners, we will deliver structured play and movement-based activities - all part of our TeamUp intervention - to vulnerable children in temporary shelters. We will also provide psychological support to parents and caregivers.