Kakuma: psychosocial care for vulnerable children
03 January 2017

Sufi is one of many JRS refugee counsellors working to improve the psychosocial health of children and refugee communities in Kakuma (Angela Wells/Jesuit Refugee Service).
Psychosocial health looks at the whole person, identifying the importance of a person’s mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.

Kakuma,  3 January 2017 – Children in the context of a refugee camp, an urban setting, or any other location around the world fall into a category of individuals who are extremely vulnerable.  Simply looking at their status in the world will identify that.  They are unable to make decisions on their own, and have to depend on others in order to survive.  All individuals need psychosocial support for their wellbeing.  Some children might need additional psychosocial care to improve their quality of life if they have experienced trauma, have lived through a disaster, or are not receiving adequate support from a caregiver.  

Going through these kinds of stressful events can stunt the proper psychological growth of a child, halting normal lifespan development. It is important to note that although some individuals may become stunted, others with higher resilience may not experience these events in the same way. Children can be at risk of being hurt or exploited during traumatic and stressful events because of stress that adults are experiencing. They might also find it difficult to access services from agencies or individuals because of a lack of knowledge about services provided, simply not knowing their human rights, or even who/how to ask for assistance. 

Empowerment through psychosocial programming is one way of working with children who have been affected by stressful events.  Most interventions tend to be Western in their approach, and may not be suitable for all cultures. Culturally sensitive interventions should be utilized when possible.  Looking at the children’s’ cultures and pulling from them will allow the approaches to be ingrained into their normal patterns and habits, rather than being something from outside of their sphere of understanding.  Asking and incorporating feedback from children and individuals in specific programming is a simple way to further understand and work with cultural norms. 

Psychosocial health looks at the whole person, identifying the importance of a person’s mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. Psychosocial support (PSS) programs should be incorporated into larger systems when possible.  Some examples might include integrating them into healthcare services, social services, government systems, religious organizations, schools (both formal and informal), community support programming, and trainings and workshops. Incorporating PSS into other services allows more people to be reached with this knowledge, and aim to be more inclusive. (WHO, 2007) Incorporating psychosocial care, and utilizing child protection principles, into these systems allows for inclusive care, and to increase a child’s capacity to cope.  

So how can individuals bring in a PSS approach into their work with children?  Looking at the components of PSS, there are many opportunities to include PSS into work with vulnerable children.  Knowing that not all children are impacted by stressful events in the same way, it is important to look at individualized care of children.  Every individual has their own set of specific needs, wants, and desires.  It is easy as an adult to lump all child care together in the same way, not taking into account the importance of the individual.  One might look at a group of 5-6 year olds and want to care for them in the same way.  This would be a disservice to the treatment and care of each child.  They all have their own histories and identities that they carry with them, and will not respond to all PSS programming in the same way.  Each individual needs to be looked at as a single entity.  Each child, regardless of their place in the world, should be given individualized care.  Look at their own mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being and capacities in order to identify the best way forward for their care.  Listen to them, and allow them to have their own voices.

Julie Krause has her master’s degree in art therapy (2015) from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago.  She is currently working with JRS in Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwestern Kenya as the Mental Health and Counseling Coordinator.  She has worked with JRS since May 2016, but has worked in Kakuma Refugee Camp for over a year.  She enjoys the complexity of working in PSS in a refugee camp, the growth that she facilitates for others, and that they facilitate for her.






Press Contact Information
Martina Bezzini
martina.bezzini@jrs.net