The situation in Ukraine is a child protection crisis of extraordinary proportions, the likes of which perhaps haven’t been seen before. Two months of the 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.
While the Government of Ukraine and humanitarian partners continue to work to protect the most vulnerable children, the needs are tremendous. Something that’s important in the 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 well-being. 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 mobilized for the war effort. And, most importantly, many children have witnessed or experienced physical and sexual violence.
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”, Aaron Greenberg- UNICEF’s Regional Advisor – Child Protection for Europe and Central Asia.
UNICEF is working in overdrive, supporting Government, coordinating child protection partners, and scaling investments in local NGOs and government services.
Let me highlight a number of statistics from the 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 specialized services through social work case management and referral to support services as it scales mobile teams of social workers, child psychologists, nurses, and lawyers. UNICEF has 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, 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”, Aaron Greenberg- UNICEF’s Regional Advisor – Child Protection for Europe and Central Asia.