Successful MHPSS program for young children developed

Today is World Mental Health Day. A day to reflect on all people who face mental health problems. Such problems are also common in the countries where we work. Due to conflicts and other difficult circumstances, people suffer, both physically and mentally. This is not easy for adults, but certainly not for children. For young children, it is difficult to understand what is going on in such situations. Especially when adults are fighting or their parents are stressed themselves.

This is why Help a Child, TNO and ARQ started a project for children aged 5 to 7 and their parents/caregivers in South Sudan in 2021. This age group reaches little help, even though they urgently need it. This pilot project came as part of the DRA Innovation Fund, which is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was implemented in Wau and surrounding towns, where active fighting has ceased, but people still suffer from the effects of the prolonged conflict. Build your Own Buddy (BOB) is a group mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) program with elements of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT). Based on recent scientific findings, the program provides strategies to recognize and communicate emotions and stress and actively reduce stress levels.

During 12 group sessions, children hear about Bob, the hare. In the colourful storybook, Bob experiences all kinds of adventures. Through various playful exercises, children are taught different strategies for dealing with their emotions. They receive help from their “buddy”, built by themselves from local materials at the beginning of the program.

The parents/caregivers follow a parallel program in which they also hear Bob’s story and do mostly the same exercises to experience how they themselves can deal with emotions and stress. In addition, they receive psycho-education about this so they can help their children deal with emotions, and there is a lot of talking and discussion.

From the cohort study, it was possible to determine that the social-emotional well-being had improved in almost two-thirds of participating children after the BOB program ended. In addition, 82% of parents who participated in the parallel program reported that it gave them the skills to meet their child’s emotional needs. The results of the study in which nearly 380 children and their parents participated were statistically significant and therefore not based on chance.

The recently published research report has more information on the results of the project. Find the report here.