Children and adolescents living in emergencies and protracted crises face immense adversity and stress. Meeting the needs of the whole child requires a sea change way of working.
The Sustainable Development Goals and The Agenda for Humanity set the stage for the humanitarian ecosystem to chart a new path forward to ensure that education in emergencies and protracted crises programming creates safe, protective environments that promote the wellbeing and healthy development of all girls, boys and adolescents via relevant, quality, holistic education.
MHPSS can – and should – be an integrated part of the learning experience to help children and adolescents cope and heal from stress and adversity. Education, gender-based violence, child protection and health actors must work collaboratively via joint programming and coordination through existing networks to ensure that mental health and wellbeing is protected and promoted in education response.
MHPSS is part and parcel of quality education and a key input to holistic learning outcomes. For ECW’s operational purposes, MHPSS in education in emergencies and protracted crises is defined as interventions and approaches in formal and nonformal education settings that promote and protect the wellbeing and holistic learning outcomes of all children – including the most marginalized and hard-to-reach girls, boys and adolescents.
ECW views MHPSS as being within the scope of the education sector and urges education actors to consider the wellbeing of girls, boys and adolescents in every aspect of the learning experience. This commitment has led to ECW taking a strong stance: school-based MHPSS is a required component in every ECW country investment. MHPSS interventions and activities in ECW-funded programmes aim to be structured, goal-oriented, evidence-informed and locally-driven.
School-based MHPSS should provide a high degree of guidance and structure. Facilitators and teachers need clear instructions and comprehensive training and support to run effective activities that are safe and provide children and adolescents with engaging learning opportunities to practice new skills, build confidence and learn specific social emotional competencies.
MHPSS interventions are measured at the outcome level, as opposed to output. MHPSS progress is measured by development of socio-emotional skills and behavioral change – as opposed to counting the number of children or teachers “reached”.
The rationale for selected approaches should be informed by evidence. For example, stress reduction activities and adapted skills-based cognitive behavioral activities have some level of evidence supporting their use in crisis contexts and can be adapted for use in ECW-funded investments. Similarly, research has revealed that one-off unstructured activities may have less impact on the wellbeing of girls, boys and adolescents.
Interventions, teaching methods and curriculum should in no way expose children and adolescents to potential harm. Further, beyond “doing no harm”, the intervention should provide a “value add” and do good – offering girls, boys and adolescents new skills, tools and experiences to better cope with and navigate life’s inevitable challenges.
MHPSS interventions should be crafted for – or highly adapted for – use in the specific context, with the genuine participation of and/or co-creation by the target audience. The approach should be aligned with The Grand Bargain and local concepts of wellbeing and healing. The selected interventions should also build on and empower local MHPSS capacities and resources and strengthen existing pathways for accessing targeted, specialized supports. Children and adolescents living in ECW-supported contexts are a diverse group. Their MHPSS needs, and the strategies to address them, should be informed by gender, age, disability, risk and protective factors.