COVID-19: UNICEF turns to technology to maintain psychosocial support for Lebanon’s at-risk children

In response to the COVID-19 emergency, UNICEF Lebanon moved quickly to address the urgent requirement for finding new ways of protecting those children most at risk and supporting their caregivers

Simon Balsom
UNICEF Lebanon
15 May 2020

The current situation that Lebanon faces with the coronavirus COVID-19 emergency coming on top of widespread job cuts, income loss, and economic insecurity among families highlights the constant need to provide consistent psychosocial support in this time of national distress. Given these conditions, the rates of child labour, sexual exploitation, and child marriage are likely to increase.

UNICEF Lebanon, supported by funding from the United Kingdom’s Department for International development (DFID), the European Union’s Regional Trust Fund  - “Madad”, the Government of the Netherlands, the United Nations Trust Fund, the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), and Danish Thematic, moved quickly to address the urgent requirement for finding new ways of protecting those children most at risk. The entry-point for the children are their caregivers, so by providing psychosocial support (PSS) for caregivers themselves using technology, they will be better equipped to provide their children with a sense of safety, stability, normalcy and to help them restore or maintain their developmental process.

Guidelines for the Provision of Remote Psychosocial Support to caregivers during COVID-19 were developed and 380 frontliners were trained on these tools to provide the support needed for the caregivers and their children.

The provision of psychosocial services through a technological platform – be that a hotline (Conference calling), WhatsApp, or any other similar platform where the specialized workers are now able to provide psychological first aid and emotional support to caregivers on an individual and group level - was rapidly introduced.

In line with UNICEF’s caregiver programmes designed to promote wellbeing and protection of children, caregivers are receiving accurate information on COVID-19 to reduce stigma level, and also learning coping strategies to address their children’s and their own level of stress with reassurance that it is a matter of time before the social relations and interactions they usually find refuge in will return, and that they will not be left alone during this period.

During April 2020, 69 fathers and 732 mothers benefited from this service, and facilitators noted a high degree of interaction from parents as they expressed their desire for group support as they need to exchange the home quarantine experience, express their stress, and receive support in order to successfully face these challenging times.

For children, psychosocial support services continue through online platforms with the provision of key tools – including games and challenges - for boys and girls, each adapted to their group age with topics related to addressing children’s emotions, coping mechanisms, planning and organizing, stigma and online bullying.

Through UNICEF’s child protection programme, 1,312 boys and girls were reached in April 2020. This support helped children to reconnect with their family members and give them opportunities for self-expression. Also, this supported in identifying children and caregivers with mental health problems or severe distress that would interfere with their daily functioning and provide them with general support and focused care activities including referring them to specialized services as needed. Moreover, 13,532 boys, girls and caregivers were reached through sensitization efforts to promote caregivers and children wellbeing including messages on psychosocial support and stigma during COVID-19. Out of this number, 10,591 are caregivers and 2,941 are boys and girls.

Amongst other strategies advised, UNICEF is advocating the positive use of social media to connect with friends instead of using it solely to keep up with often alarming stories the media portrays, as well as avoiding watching, listening to or discussing upsetting news when children are around.

Supported by its international donors, technology is being increasingly adopted by UNICEF and its local partners in Lebanon as the best way to reach out to caregivers to prevent the increase of violence against children during a time where physical distancing is required, as well as stigma, discrimination and distress in most vulnerable children and caregivers.