Exploring the parenting challenges of Syrian families displaced by conflict and residing in refugee camps
Aala has made several research field trips to Syria and Turkey to interview displaced families that have fled their homes and were living in refugee contexts such as refugee camps and shelters. She conducted interviews and focus groups with parents and asked them what it was like caring for their children in such contexts, what was making it more challenging and how they were coping.
Every parent Aala met was struggling to care for their children. They were faced with worrying emotional and behavioural changes in their children such as depression, anger, aggression, bed wetting and thumb sucking and they didn’t know how to help them. In addition the caregivers themselves were struggling with their own emotional challenges and a great sense of loss of control.
Parents reported urgently wanting help in understanding how best to parent their children.
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Testing the feasibility of providing psychological first aid to families in a conflict zone;The Breadwrapper study
Research Aala has conducted in refugee camps in Syria and Turkey (add link ), brought to the forefront the enormous challenges that families face in the context of war and displacement. A real urgent need for intervention to help parents was identified with almost every parents Aala met struggling to care for their children. This led to a unique trial study that posted 3,000 ‘urgent parenting advice’ leaflets/questionnaires to families in Syria living in a conflict zone, many of whom had been displaced several times. The leaflets and pens were wrapped in packaging for bread and delivered by Khayr Charity Foundation of the NGO WATAN. Of the 3,000 questionnaires sent out, 1,770 were completed and returned from parents, with comments such as:
“Thank you for not forgetting about us and our children” and “I feel more confident that I can help my son now”.
The leaflets Aala and her colleagues, Professor Rachel Calam and Dr Kim Cartwright, developed explained the different types of behaviour children might go through as a result of exposure to extreme violence and loss. This included bed wetting, becoming unusually aggressive or shy and withdrawn, and experiencing a loss of appetite, nightmares and flashbacks. In addition there were helpful tips on providing warmth and safety, giving praise, spending time together and talking, encouraging play and maintaining routine.
The leaflet has now been adapted to the European Refugee crisis and translated into several languages. You can download it here: (add link )
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Enhancing a child recovery programme with family skills training
Aala and colleagues, Professor of Child and Family Psychology, Rachel Calam and Dr Kim Cartwright from The University of Manchester, have worked with the Children and War Foundation to enhance their existing Training Recovery Techniques (TRT) programme, which is already used across the world in humanitarian settings. The team have included a new stream of training especially for parents. The parent and caregiver component of the TRT programme has been tailored specifically for refugee families based on Aala’s recent research.
The team piloted the new programme in Reyhanli, Turkey, in November and December 2015. Aala conducted training of the adapted TRT programme in Istanbul for teachers of a school for refugee Syrian children. Outcomes were very promising, with reductions in signs of distress in children, and increased parent confidence and skills. The current TRT programme, without the parenting element, is designed to engage 8+ year old children in overcoming the effects of trauma. This new Plus Parenting programme also enables parents to help children under the age of 8 and protect them from long-term mental health problems.
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