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CCF Speaks to Capitol Hill on Child Protection Issues Emerging from Tsunami's Aftermath

Image of children who have survived the TsunamiStrong interest from Capitol Hill on child protection issues emerging from the tsunami was the focus of a briefing sponsored by House Majority Leader Tom Delay and Congressman Delahunt yesterday. Christian Children's Fund (CCF), invited to speak at the briefing, warned that children in tsunami-affected areas are especially vulnerable now.

CCF's Solene Edouard-Binkley noted that while the exploitation of children did not begin with the Tsunami, "this recent disaster invites greater potential for child labor, early marriage and sexual exploitation."

Binkley spoke to the need for 'Culturally Adapted Solutions to Child Protection Issues,’ based on CCF's award-winning approach to assisting children and their families in emergency situations through psychosocial interventions that draw on natural resilience and that treat children and families as survivors, not victims.

She cited the work by CCF’s Child Protection Specialist Dr. Michael Wessells, a pioneering advocate for the use of psychosocial interventions to help survivors of natural and manmade disasters, who indicates that children's reactions depend largely on how their parents or caregivers react.

"The psychosocial impacts of disasters on children are typically mediated by the family, which comprises children's primary means of social support, care and protection," notes Wessells. And Wessells says it is a mistake to speak of the psychological impact on children as if all children react the same. "Each child varies in his/her own resilience. And each child's experience of the tsunami is different. Some children may have successfully run from the tsunami with their families; whereas others may have seen parents swept away or may have become separated from family. These different experiences will vastly color a child's feelings following a disastrous event."

The Needs Pyramid

Wessells points to research that uses a pyramid to describe the spectrum of experiencesand reactions children are having. At the top of the pyramid are the small minority of severely affected children (3 to 5%) who are exhibiting signs of trauma, depression or other signs of mental illness. For this minority group, CCF will implement a system torefer the 3 to 5 percent of severely affected children to more aggressive, individual professional counseling.

In fact, CCF will use part of an OFDA grant to establish community-based child protection networks to identify children in need of professional referrals.

In the middle of the pyramid, are a larger group of children who are affected but remain functional. This group needs support and will most likely benefit from community-based interventions. "This middle layer frequently includes vulnerable children such as separated children, children who have disabilities, survivors of sexual violence and those who have engaged in or are at risk of engaging in trafficking or child labor," says Wessells. CCF is designing programs in communities to address these vulnerabilities, including livelihood interventions for youth, widows and other vulnerable families along with establishing Child-Centered Spaces in the community.

At the bottom of the pyramid are the largest group of children who are able to draw on their own resilience to overcome shock, loss and grief that they have experienced.

Wessells notes that children often move from one layer to another within the pyramid ... some children become more resilient; others move to more at-risk categories. The movement up or down the pyramid depends on the appropriateness of the interventions that are put in place.

Culturally-Appropriate Support

A big debate in tsunami-affected countries is the use of aggressive Western psychiatric methods to help children adjust. With the exception of the small number of children at the top of the pyramid, CCF Child Protection Specialists feel that most children will be better served by community interventions and support.

CCF employs a wide array of psychosocial interventions that have successfully been used in a variety of conflict and natural emergency situations including Angola, Sierra Leone, India (earthquake 2000), and Afghanistan, among others. "Experience has shown that these kind of interventions, conducted at the community level, by the communities themselves, have proven to be sustainable and are essential for long-term reconstruction and rebuilding," concluded Wessells.