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09 May 2012

Dialogue on psychosocial support for vulnerable children

The Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development (NFSD), together with the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative for children affected by poverty, conflict, HIV and AIDS (REPSSI), and the Swiss Academy for Development (SAD) convened an experts’ meeting on psychosocial needs of vulnerable children on 24 April 2012 in Geneva. The meeting was part of the ongoing Geneva dialogue series hosted by the foundation on global health issues and covered issues including the heterogeneous needs of vulnerable children, current psychosocial projects, and challenges and opportunities to scale up innovative approaches.

Erika Dittli, Nathalie Vesco, Adrian Gschwend, Noreen M. Huni, Klaus M. Leisinger

From “nice to have” to “every child’s right”

Noreen M. Huni and Lynette Mudekunye, REPSSI, presented the tools and programs REPSSI has implemented to provide emotional and social support to vulnerable children. Operating in 1994 project sites across 13 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, REPSSI provides technical leadership in psychosocial support for around five million children and youth.

To date, over 29,000 community caregivers have been trained through REPSSI’s numerous initiatives and in 2009, REPSSI introduced an accredited training program to increase capacity in psychosocial care. Various African governments have begun adopting REPSSI’s programs and resources at the national level.

Creating evidence for psychosocial support

Niklaus Eggenberger and Adrian Gschwend, Swiss Academy for Development (SAD), followed with a discussion of SAD’s recent evidence-based study on the impact of psychosocial support on vulnerable and non-vulnerable children. Among other findings, the study challenged the myth of the resilient African child and brought attention to vulnerable children’s above-average exposure to violence and experiences with complicated grief.

Collaborating for results

Nathalie Vesco, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), stressed the importance of multi-sectored intervention programs that address not only psychosocial care, but also other areas of concern including income generation and education. SDC supports an intervention program to counter violence against women and children in the Great Lakes region that includes psychosocial programs as well as preventative measures.

Erika Dittli, SOS Children’s Villages Switzerland, provided a further example of a psychosocial support programs with her discussion on SOS Children’s Villages. Children’s wellbeing is at the heart of SOS Children’s Villages’ initiatives; however projects include activities to additionally strengthen both families and communities.

Call for more training and partnerships

Participants called for a minimum care package that outlined the base services psychosocial programs’ ought to encompass. However, discussions noted the individual attention each child requires to best profit from these programs. Participants agreed that further training of paraprofessionals is needed to strengthen psychosocial services and better meet the social and emotional needs of vulnerable children, and that multi-stakeholder partnerships are essential to improving the psychosocial care of vulnerable children.

Download the full summary of the Geneva dialogue.

Learn more about REPSSI.

Learn more about SAD’s study.

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