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Psychosocial Wellbeing and Socio-Emotional Learning in the Syrian Refugee Response: Challenges and Opportunities

Tue, April 16, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Bayview B


Psychosocial support (PSS) programmes aim to enhance the resilience of individuals, families and communities, referring individuals for clinical interventions where necessary. The 2007 Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) guidelines state that PSS should be contextually appropriate and facilitate the participation of a wide range of actors in a cross-sectoral approach (IASC, 2007). Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a specific line of PSS programming for children which is usually integrated into education curriculum. SEL programmes have mainly been implemented in western countries but are beginning to gather traction in crisis-affected contexts.

This report focuses on PSS and SEL for Syrian refugee children and their host community counterparts in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Urgent action is required to prevent a ‘mental health time bomb’ for Syrian refugee children (Smith, 2016), which may result as much from the daily stressors of displacement as from war exposure. If not addressed, the long-term implications for the economic, social, and political stability of the region could be catastrophic. However, the extent to which contextual factors provide barriers or pathways to the implementation of PSS and SEL programmes for Syrian refugee children remains largely unknown. The driving question behind this research is therefore: What are the barriers to, and facilitators of, implementing PSS and SEL in the Syria response?

On top of an in-depth literature review, the researchers for this study carried out 20 interviews with Child Protection (CP) and Education advisors working at non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international NGOs (INGOs) in the Syria response countries. By providing practitioners with a critical space for reflection, this study highlights the diversity of perspectives on the challenges and opportunities specific to implementing PSS and SEL for Syrian refugee children in the Syria response, and aims to offer contextualised recommendations for practice.

The study identifies five key areas in relation to the challenges and opportunities of implementing PSS and SEL in the Syria response: definitions of PSS in practice, research, participation of local actors, coordination, and practitioner support. Findings show that there is a lack of clarity around the term ‘psychosocial’ in practice, which may be due in part to a tendency in research towards clinical interventions, potentially at the cost of skilled facilitation of non-specialised programmes and family and community supports, and targeting daily stressors. The evidence base for the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of PSS programmes in the Syria response is currently limited in relation to contextually-appropriate M&E methods and psychosocial wellbeing indicators and outcomes. Short-term funding is a major constraint to research. Children, parents, caregivers and communities are yet to be fully involved in programmes. PSS actors in the Middle East region are uncoordinated and are at present failing to work together towards the ‘common good’, particularly when it comes to integrating PSS into education through SEL. Lastly, training and emotional support are lacking for PSS staff and teachers working in the Syria response countries.


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