EMERGENCIES - 28 November 2023

Psychological care crucial for the children of Gaza and Israel to avert long-term trauma

The losses and trauma from the war are taking a heavy toll on the mental health and well-being of children of Gaza and Israel - with long-term effects on their development.

Their sense of security has been shattered. Children without parental care, many already coming from troubled backgrounds, face re-traumatization. Psychological care is crucial to avert long-term trauma.

Shira*, who lives at the SOS Children’s Village Neradim in Arad, Israel, lost her older sister during the 7 October attack on a music festival in Reim. Two other siblings lost an older brother who was killed outside his home while trying to defend his kibbutz.

“Many of the young people know quite a few friends who were kidnapped and who were killed,” says Mor Rabi Mizrahi, who is in charge of youth programmes at SOS Children’s Villages in Israel. “Their mental state is not well; everyone is in great fear and sadness.”

In Palestine, the children and caregivers in the SOS Children’s Village in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, live with the constant threat of bombs falling nearby. In the Gaza Strip, SOS Children’s Villages is scaling up psychological support not only to caregivers at the Children’s Village, but also to community members.

“The ongoing situation in Palestine has created immense challenges for our families and children,” says Ghada Hirzallah, Interim National Director of SOS Children's Villages in Palestine. “The impact on children, in particular, is profound. Daily struggles for basic needs, exposure to violence, and the constant threat to their sense of security shape their daily lives – and this is having a long-lasting impact on their mental health.”

 

Restore a sense of security

The continued tension and violence have had an impact on children’s mental health in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Children have a right to be protected from violence and armed conflict. When exposed to adversities, such as violence and conflict, it can significantly impact a child's development, with effects that can endure into adulthood. For children who already live without parental care, such experiences will often cause retraumatization. In the face of humanitarian crises, SOS Children’s Villages play a pivotal role in providing the psycho-social care and nurturing relationship children need to overcome these difficult experiences and foster resilience.

Nelly Geva, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages in Israel, explains that they have expanded the number of security guards at night to give the children more sense of security. “One of our main concerns is how the horrible images and stories that are being spread, in particular via social media, affect the mental and psychological well-being of children.”

 

Channel energies into positive actions

Children who lose parental care are particularly vulnerable as they are not ensured the caring bonds needed to help them develop resilience and overcome these traumatic experiences. For children living in war and conflict zones, who are experiencing trauma, nurturing and protective relationships are more important than ever.

Parents and caregivers need mental health support too to cope with this crisis situation. Research shows that providing such mental health support for parents can help mitigate the effects of potential trauma on their children.

In Israel, the caregivers are trained to identify signs of distress. They are encouraged to have conversation where children have the space to express their emotions, some using writing and drawing. As part of their professional development, they are trained to provide a compassionate and targeted therapeutic response for the children.

Children also receive psychological treatment through individual and group therapy by professional psychologists to prevent the long-term effects of post-traumatic stress. They offer animal and art therapy, which cultivates emotional resilience, reduces distress and offers solutions for support and healing.

“Children in alternative care have been through so much trauma in their lives already - so much upheaval and instability,” says Hanna Daskal, a therapeutic care coordinator at the SOS Children's Village Neradim. “Their sense of security was already stunned, and we do every day such a hard job to restore it and create safe soil for them to grow in. And now, these events shook their world hard.”

“We encourage talk of feelings every day, each one with what he feels, what he faces,” Hanna adds. “A place to vent, a place to support each other. We channel our energies into positive actions to maintain a life routine through creativity and love for others, both inside and outside the village.”

In Palestine, a psychologist working at the children’s village in Rafah, says that since the outbreak of the war, many children have lost contact with biological family members.

“Many family members of the children were killed, especially first-degree relatives, such as siblings or fathers,” says the psychologist. “Children experienced a psychological shock, sadness, and emotional pain as a result of this loss.”

Like in Israel, one-on-on session help children deal with this painful period and reduce the risk of having a psychological shock in the future.

“Children often ask us during the sessions questions like ‘why was my brother killed? What was his fault?’ We deal with these questions with utmost professionalism to protect them from any setbacks,” the psychologist says.

Ms. Geva of SOS Children’s Villages Israel, hopes that the work they do, in both Palestine and Israel, will contribute to a more peaceful future: “I hope that we are able to teach the children the values of tolerance, inclusion and non -violence – in order to build a better world.”

 

*Name changed to protect privacy

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