UNICEF: War in Ukraine has created ‘a child protection crisis of extraordinary proportions’

“The situation in Ukraine is a child protection crisis of extraordinary proportions, the likes of which we perhaps haven’t seen before.”

That was the sombre message of Aaron Greenberg, UNICEF’s Regional Advisor on Child Protection for Europe and Central Asia, as he reflected on the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

“Two months of war in Ukraine have left 7.7 million people internally displaced and driven over 5.5 million people across international borders, including nearly two-thirds of all children in Ukraine. Hundreds of children have been killed and many more have been injured. Nearly 200 attacks have been reported against health care facilities, and schools continue to be impacted by strikes.

‘The impact of the war on these children has been particularly devastating’

Speaking at a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Greenberg continued: “While the Government of Ukraine and humanitarian partners continue to work to protect the most vulnerable children, the needs are tremendous.

“Let me remind colleagues of something that’s important in our view to recall. Ukraine had the highest number of children in institutional care across Europe prior to the war – over 90,000 living in institutions, orphanages, boarding schools and other care facilities. Nearly half of them are children with disabilities.

“The impact of the war on these children has been particularly devastating. Tens of thousands of children living in institutional or foster care have been returned to families, many of them hastily, as the war got started. Many have not received the care and protection they require, especially children with disabilities.

“The war has impacted all children’s psychosocial wellbeing. All of them. Children have been uprooted from their homes, separated from caregivers and directly exposed to war. Children have been shaken by bomb explosions and the blaring sirens of missile alert systems. Nearly all children are coping with the absence of their fathers, older male siblings or uncles as nearly all men between the ages of 18-60 are mobilised for the war effort. And, most importantly, many children have witnessed or experienced physical and sexual violence.

‘They will need intensive support from dedicated professionals’

“But children are resilient. UNICEF’s decades-long experience working with children affected by armed conflict has clearly shown that a large number of impacted children will bounce back if they get back to school, remain connected to family and loved ones, and get back some normalization in their lives. A sub-set will need more intensive psychological support. And a smaller, but important number will present symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder usually after 2-4 months of their experience. This group will need intensive support from a dedicated cadre of professionals.

“Let me emphasize a particular problem we’re seeing. The workforce in Ukraine – social workers, child psychologists, and other professionals – are equally impacted by this conflict. And the country needs them now – perhaps more than ever. Retaining the workforce and supporting them to stay and deliver is more important than ever. We must stand in solidarity with the backbone of Ukraine’s social service workforce. We are here in Lviv looking at options for what is going to be a significant roll-out of support through existing government systems to support that workforce.

“UNICEF is working in overdrive, supporting Government, coordinating child protection partners, and scaling investments in local NGOs and government services.

‘Over 34,000 children have benefited from specialised services’

“Let me highlight a number of statistics from our side. Since 24 February, UNICEF and partners have reached over 140,000 children and their caregivers with Mental Health and Psychosocial services, a vast majority of those are direct engagements with children and trained psychologists. Over 34,000 children have benefited from specialised services through social work case management and referral to support services as we scale mobile teams of social workers, child psychologists, nurses and lawyers. We now have 56 operational mobile units across the country, including 12 in the East. Over 7,000 women and children have been reached by violence prevention, risk mitigation and violence response services, including gender-based violence, including in the eastern areas of the country.

“But it’s not enough. Although we are working in overdrive, I think we must be prepared with more specialized services for child survivors of physical and sexual violence. And children with disabilities, who have suffered disproportionately as a result of this war, must receive urgent support. The Government, UNICEF, and partners are scaling more services to these children now.”

Author: Simon Weedy

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