Author: Stuvland, R.; Durakovic-Belko, E.; Kutlaca, M.
An external UNICEF evaluation study was carried out in 1998 to review psychosocial projects in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Richardson, 1998). One of the findings of this report was that although the initial objectives of most of the projects were to help children themselves, the most tangible benefits were those to teachers and psychologists themselves, who reported that they had received important information about behavioral changes in their students at an important time. The report suggested that among the thousands who received training, only a small minority had applied what they had learned in the classrooms in a consistent basis. Among the recommendations in this report was the need to assess how well the teachers had applied what they learned in their various training sessions, and to learn more about how the project had impacted students who had participated in it.
Purpose / Objective
In order to learn more about the actual impact of the project on the school professional personnel, a retrospective, questionnaire-based survey was planned and carried out in schools where teaching professionals had been through training programmes supported by UNICEF and others in various parts of the country. The study not only addressed how the school personnel perceived the impact of the project activities on themselves and their activities with the children, but also addressed current problems and priorities for the future.
Data were collected from a total of 118 subjects working in primary and secondary schools in the cantons of Sarajevo, Mostar and Tuzla in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and from different parts of Republika Srpska. The locations included in the study were selected because UNICEF had been actively involved in supporting psychosocial projects in these locations. In these locations, schools were chosen for inclusion from a list provided by the Pedagogic Institutes over schools in which the program had been implemented. For details of the sample, see table 6.
It should be noted that the people who were involved in the project from 1992 to 1999 carried out this study; this is, in other words, not an external study nor is it an evaluation study in the traditional format. Rather, it is an attempt by some of the key players in the psychosocial program in Bosnia and Herzegovina to summarize the results achieved in this program, based on quantitative data from school professionals in some of the schools that had participated in the program.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Participants reported that the school psychosocial project had offered them much as well as valuable knowledge and skills. They reported that the training seminars had been efficient in increasing their knowledge about the psychological effects of war on children, and the seminars had helped them not only understand the children, but also their own reactions to traumatic events and losses. Data suggests, however, that there is a need to improve the professional supervision services for those participating in such projects.
About 90% reported that they had utilized the skills they received from the project in their daily work with children, parents and/or teachers. About a third of all participants in the study had carried out a lot of activities, both within the regular curriculum as well as specific support activities for children individually or in groups outside the classroom.
Participants in the study reported that they, in general, had positive experiences with psychological survey studies carried out among school children to document the impact of war. These surveys had been useful in extending the knowledge of the school personnel about the influence of war on children, and most children had readily accepted to fill in the questionnaires while parents were less ready to accept the surveys. Results from such surveys are useful advocacy tools both at community, national and international levels. However, due to the complex technical as well as ethical issues related to carrying out such surveys, there is a need for well-developed strategies and appropriate professional resources before they are carried out.
Psycho pedagogues and other school personnel involved in the work with children affected by war experienced that they received good support from educational authorities as well as from colleagues, and it seems reasonable to suggest that UNICEF's support to the school psychosocial projects during and after the war have contributed to this positive finding.
Among the participants in the study, 57% reported that they had someone they could contact to seek advice or assistance regarding psychosocial services for students, i.e. the psycho-pedagogues could contact a clinical psychologist or another mental health expert to seek advice, whenever necessary. Furthermore, 71% reported that they could refer a student to mental health services for more specialized support or treatment, if required. These results are from schools in which the psychosocial program had been implemented. We do not have data from non-project schools with which we may compare these findings but these figures are not representative for the entire country and we must assume that the availability of specialized mental health services is not as good in other parts of the country. Among the respondents, 37% reported that schools did not offer adequate psychosocial support to students.
Although the subjects, in general, are satisfied with the support they received for the implementation of various psychosocial support programs in the schools, they are facing constraints. The main constraints are: lack of financial means (39%), lack of adequate training (31%), lack of space for activities (20%), problems caused because pupils do not have free time (16%), and lack of free time among the teachers (14%).
Asked to set up the most important actions that should be taken in order to improve the psychosocial services for children in the schools, the following list of priorities was established (in rank order):
- To carry out psychosocial surveys of pupils in order to get as accurate information as possible regarding their needs assessment
- To implement general psycho-educational programs designed to reach large numbers of children
- To organize training seminars in order to support teachers and psycho-pedagogues in their current work with pupils
- To organize specialised services for smaller numbers of highly-traumatised pupils
- To provide psychosocial support for teachers/school staff themselves
- To provide training in general communication skills
- To intensify the work with parents
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Health - Mental Health