“For some children, school is their safe place to be because of the challenges they face while at home. Schools play a fundamental role in influencing children’s behaviour by providing conducive environments for intellectual growth, instilling discipline and promoting social skills for their well-being,” shares Grace Atim, a Psychologist.
Good mental health for children enables children to develop socially, emotionally, mentally and physically by attaining their developmental and emotional milestones . This further enables them to learn healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems. Mentally healthy children have a positive quality of life and can function well at home, in school, and their communities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been with us for almost 3 years. Its impact on children and young people’s mental health and well-being continues to weigh heavily. According to UNICEF, globally, at least 1 in 7 children have been directly affected by lockdowns, while more than 1.6 billion children have suffered some loss of education.
At the start of 2022 schools in Uganda opened for physical learning after nearly 2 years of closure. For many adolescents, adjusting to this new routine will remain a challenge that will be further exacerbated by numerous changes during this period. This includes adjusting to resuming school in their pre-Covid classes . It is likely to negatively impact their mental health.
Further to this, the disruption to routines, education, recreation, as well as concern for family income and health, has left many children and youth feeling afraid, angry, and concerned about their future.
During the countrywide lockdown, some children experienced abuse, physically, sexually, and emotionally. A key challenge that has emerged from this is the numerous teenage pregnancies resulting in school drop outs especially for girls. Additionally, some parents died due to Covid19 leaving some children orphaned and vulnerable.
“The impact of abuse on children’s mental health and their development is far-fetched as this can lead to lifelong damage on the lifestyle of the children. Many of these children loose self-esteem and feel worthless because that is what society has made them believe. These children also are likely to have stunted development both physically and emotionally where they cannot relate with others properly due to their personal experiences,” Juliet Mugisa, Social worker, Tororo District.
Poor mental health impacts how children relate with others and how they react to issues. Such children are often not able to interact socially with their peers who have not been abused. They will lose interest in participating in extra curricular activities and often turn out to be violent to others, depicting exactly what they go through.
“The vulnerable groups, especially the children in the district of Tororo have been immensely affected by the COVID19waves since 2020 on the onset of the pandemic. However, there are many programs and different partners including Local government and development partners who have come out during this very critical time to support them,” Susan Alamai, Senior Probation, and Welfare Officer, Tororo District.
Child’s i Foundation has supported families by placing them in loving families, providing food supplies, foster care thus giving relief to many.
“With the help of social welfare officers we have identified children who have been abused, intervened, mediated and made sure they were safe from their abusers,” Susan Alamai, Probation and Welfare Officer, Tororo District.
“The support structures in terms of senior women and men teachers are being equipped by the Department of LocalGovernment to give psychosocial support to children returning to schools,” Susan Alamai, Probation and Welfare Officer.
“For children to thrive during this transition, schools should introduce mental health support units or clubs where children can easily relate and identify issues that need follow-up. Within these clubs, children will grow and develop holistically, will be supported and safeguarded from threats and triggers,” Juliet Mugisa, Social Worker Tororo District.
“These units can be also introduced in community hubs where children are engaged to understand what they go through or what their experiences have been so that they can help mitigate them before they become abusers of other children,”She added.
Child’s i Foundation, has collaborated with the Government of Uganda and other CSOs to ensure that children are safe mainly focusing on mental wellbeing. We have supported families in the communities; parents have been empowered and are now stable to independently support their children.
We have also continued to build capacities of community structures who are the grass-root informers of what is happening in the different sub-counties. This has helped us reach out to those children and families who need support.