On 1 June 2020, International Children’s Day, WHO released a new report on early life trauma (also referred to as adverse childhood events) with a focus on Belarus and Ukraine.
While children are not the face of COVID-19, they are at risk of being among its hidden victims. The global rise in interpersonal violence is a distressing indicator that many children have experienced some form of early life trauma during the ongoing pandemic. International Children’s Day serves as a reminder of our common duty to protect the rights and well-being of children across the globe.
High levels of early life trauma have been a challenge in central and eastern European countries since long before the current pandemic. These have been linked to social, political, economic and environmental upheavals experienced in the past.
Early life trauma is a key determinant of health and well-being throughout the life course. For example, people who have experienced such trauma are at higher risk of suicide and substance abuse later in life. Yet little detailed analysis currently exists of the sociocultural contexts in which this trauma is experienced, understood and responded to.
Supplementing important quantitative research, such as the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey, the new report expands the evidence base by bringing in the perspectives of those most intensely involved in and personally impacted by early life trauma. It includes first-person perspectives from key stakeholders, including psychiatrists, paediatricians, teachers, lawyers and religious leaders. In so doing, the report seeks to break down silos, facilitate the identification of common goals and unique approaches, and build solidarity.
The report analyses these stakeholder contributions and provides clear, action-oriented considerations for policy-makers, organizations and communities. It identifies 3 priority areas of work:
- evidence-based education and training on preventing, detecting and responding to early life trauma;
- clear roles, protocols and communication pathways across sectors to activate and guide the response process; and
- intersectoral partnerships and networks to leverage resources, mitigate burnout among practitioners, and build a continuum of support and care within communities.
The report was developed as part of WHO/Europe’s cultural contexts of health and well-being (CCH) project. The CCH project seeks to enhance public health policy-making through a more nuanced understanding of how cultural factors affect perceptions of health and well-being. The following partners collaborated in the production of this report:
- the WHO Collaborating Centre on Culture and Health, University of Exeter, United Kingdom;
- the Minsk Regional Centre for Psychiatry and Addiction, Belarus;
- the Institute of Mental Health, Ukrainian Catholic University, Ukraine;
- WHO/Europe’s mental health programme;
- the WHO Country Office in Ukraine; and
- the WHO Country Office in Belarus.