Children in Poland share their voices on mental health, education and integration in the face of the war in Ukraine in the latest report by UNICEF, Plan International and Save the Children

This is the first report in Poland by the three organisations that consulted children and heard their voices to understand education, social cohesion, mental health and psychosocial support and their right to participation.

20 November 2023
Photos took by children
UNICEF

Warsaw, 20 November 2023 – On World Children’s Day, three international organisations working in the field of child protection in Poland - United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Plan International and Save the Children - release a research report on the subjective wellbeing of children and adolescents living in Poland in the face of the war in Ukraine. The report is based on children's voices and opinions through pictures taken by them and participatory dialogues.

Over a hundred children from Ukraine and Poland who currently live in Warsaw, Wrocław and Kraków took part in the study. It aims to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges that refugee children from Ukraine and children from host communities face, as expressed through their own words and images, and to identify opportunities to enhance their wellbeing. As part of the study, children captured how they experience life in Poland by taking pictures on subjects that matter to them and constructive dialogues around those themes. Photovoice methodology, where participants are invited to take photos relating to certain topics is a creative, innovative and effective way to do research. This method is also allowing children to have a say in the research subject, since they are co-creating it. The information was also collected about the ‘world around the children’, therefore the consultations with children from Ukraine were also held in groups, with the participation of their Polish peers.

“Today, on World Children's Day, which commemorates the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we turn our attention to children and their rights. Poland played a unique role in this process, by submitting the first draft of the document prepared by a team lead by a Polish lawyer, Adam Łopatka and ratifying it in 1991”, said Dr. Rashed Mustafa Sarwar, Country Coordinator for the UNICEF Refugee Response Office in Poland. “Among the fundamental rights set out in the CRC, there is also a right for children to play a role in shaping their lives. I hope that the recommendations provided in this report will become a useful guide for further actions by national and local authorities in Poland as well as international organisations and civil society and will help us build and support programmes that respond to the needs of children from Ukraine and Poland.”

“There are currently 957,000 refugees from Ukraine actively registered as living in Poland. Around 380,000 of them are children. Nearly two years since the escalation of the war in Ukraine, girls, boys and their families are still facing a humanitarian crisis each day”, says Sue Ellen Stefanini, Plan International Poland's Head of Mission.

“It is of utmost importance that children and young people impacted by the war – including those who are internally displaced, have fled to host countries, or are still living in occupied territories – be heard on their needs and priorities, as it relates to their ongoing protection and wellbeing.

“That is why I would like to thank the children who contributed to this report for sharing with us their important messages. It is our responsibility as international organisations, government authorities and civil society to take into account the voice of the children refugees in Poland."

“Save the Children is often told that its aims are impossible - that there has always been child suffering and there always will be. We know. It’s impossible only if we make it so. It’s impossible only if we refuse to attempt it. The best evidence provided our founder Eglantyne Jebb who was practically a peer of the heroic Janusz Korczak. Exactly 100 years ago 1923 determined that her vision would become a reality she jotted down five directives she believed were the fundamental rights of every child. Eglantyne lobbied the League of Nations until they adopted these rights in 1924. From there, they would form the basis of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959. Insofar this report is only the continuation of this attempt to give the voice, to listen to children and finally acting for them”, said Bujar Hoxha, Save the Children Poland’s Country Director.

The consultations were framed around these three themes: the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of refugee children from Ukraine, their education, and their integration into Polish society. Key findings from the report include:

  • Children from Ukraine expressed feelings of nostalgia for the people, pets and places they had left behind.
  • Some children and adolescents become apathetic and resort to excessive sleeping and eating when they feel overwhelmed with feelings of stress.
  • Over half of the participants from Ukraine said they would like to talk to “someone professional” about their mental health.
  • Those who attend a Polish school reported that although they face many challenges such as language barriers and adaptation to a new educational system, going to school provides some routine.
  • Studying at an online Ukrainian school was deemed to be very tiring because of the amount of screen time but especially because, according to participants, the classes were not well organised.
  • Fewer than half of the participants from Ukraine expressed a desire to stay in Poland.
  • Some children from Ukraine reported experiencing discrimination at school, from both teachers and classmates.
  • When Polish and Ukrainian participants had sufficient opportunities for deep one-on-one exchanges with others, they recalled positive experiences, getting along together and building friendships.

In response to these challenges, the report recommends concrete and practical steps for national and local authorities in Poland, United Nations agencies, NGOs and civil society organisations. The recommendations are categorised into three key areas:

Mental health and psychosocial wellbeing

  • Increase awareness of and access to specialised, free of charge mental health care services for refugee children from Ukraine, e.g., through recruitment of Ukrainian-speaking mental health experts.
  • Foster parenting programmes, elevating the capabilities of educators, intercultural assistants, and volunteers.

Education

  • Deploy more Ukrainian intercultural assistants in Polish schools and enrich teacher training content with modules on social and cultural cohesion, conflict sensitivity, anti-discrimination practices, and wellbeing.
  • Prioritise Polish language classes, remedial support and peer-to-peer mentoring programmes.
  • Provide information about education options for children from Ukraine.

 Cohesion and participation

  • Fund extracurricular activities that enable children from Ukraine, especially those who attend an online school, to build meaningful relationships in Poland.
  • Provide anonymous and child friendly feedback mechanisms in schools and child friendly spaces, to ensure that children have opportunities to safely report their concerns.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, a quarter of the population has been displaced. Many refugees, most of them women and children, have crossed the border into Poland to seek protection from the conflict. Currently, there are almost 960,000 refugees from Ukraine in our country. Of these, 40 percent are children.

"It is cool here, no doubt about it... but home is home." – „Exploring the subjective wellbeing of children and adolescents living in Poland in the face of the war in Ukraine” report is available online. 

Media contacts

Monika Kacprzak
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Refugee Response Office in Poland
Tel: (+48) 604 226 866

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