From Trauma-Informed to Healing-Centered Engagement: Essential Strategies

Healing-Centered Engagement[HCE] moves beyond trauma-informed approaches by focusing on well-being. Trauma-informed approaches to engagement focuses on treating the symptoms of trauma itself.   It is individual, rather than collective. HCE emphasizes collective well-being framed by the knowledge of the impact of collective trauma.

Being healing-centered means that, in this case, young people are more than what happened to them, seeking to saturate young people with opportunities for healing and well-being. Shifting from trauma-informed care or treatment requires expanding from a treatment-based model, viewing trauma and harm as isolated experiences, to an engagement model which supports collective well-being. For professionals whose work involves engaging with young people:

1>Start by building empathy

This model begins by building empathy with young people who have experienced trauma, which takes time. It is an ongoing process, often characterized by having the feeling of two steps forward and three steps back. Persistence is important. Don’t give up on these young people. Critical to this approach, adults are encouraged to share their story first, taking that leap into being more vulnerable, honest and open to young people. This process creates an empathy exchange.

This empathy exchange also strengthens emotional literacy which allows for youth to discuss the complexity of their own feelings. Fostering empathy allows them to feel safe sharing their feelings and emotions and ultimately restores their sense of well-being because they have the power to name and respond to their emotional states.

.the bully

2>Encourage young people to dream and imagine

A critically important ingredient in this type of engagement is the ability to acknowledge the harm and injury, but not be defined by it. The ability to see beyond the condition, event or situation that caused the trauma originally is a great tool. Research shows that the ability to dream and imagine is an important factor in fostering hopefulness and optimism, both of which contribute to overall well-being (Snyder et al. 2003). Daily survival and ongoing crisis management in young people’s lives can make it difficult for them to see beyond the present.

******The casualty of trauma is not just depression and emotional scares, but also the loss of the ability to dream and imagine another way of living.******

“Dreams matter.” 

 “As long as a man [woman] has a dream, he [she] cannot lose the significance of living”  

Howard Thurman

By creating activities and opportunities for young people to play, re-imagine, design and envision their lives this process strengthens their future goal orientation. These are practices of possibility that encourage young people to envision what they want to become, and who they want to be.

girl holding dandelion flower

3>Build critical reflection and take loving action

Healing and well-being are fundamentally political, not clinical. This means that we have to consider the ways in which the policies and practice and political decisions harm young people. Healing in this context also means that young people develop an analysis of these practices and policies that facilitated the trauma in the first place. Without an analysis of these issues, young people often internalize, and blame themselves for lack of confidence. Critical reflection provides a lens by which to filter, examine, and consider analytical and spiritual responses to trauma.  ‘Spiritual responses’ means the ability to draw upon the power of culture, rituals and faith in order to consistently act from a place of humility, and love. These are not cognitive processes, but rather ethical, moral and emotional aspects of healing centered engagement.

The other key component, is taking loving action, by collectively responding to political decisions and practices that can exacerbate trauma. By taking action, (e.g. school walkouts, organizing peace march, or promoting access to healthy foods) it builds a sense of power and control over their lives. Research has demonstrated that building this sense of power and control among traumatized groups is perhaps one of the most significant features in restoring holistic well-being.

We need to listen and learn from young people who have insights that can advance how we think about trauma and healing. We will have the ability to ask new questions, and formulate new and relevant strategies about how to support young people who experience trauma. Healing centered engagement is just a step toward a more holistic, and humanistic framework to support young people who have been harmed. Such an approach encourages us to think and act more boldly about how to restore young people and create places where they can truly flourish.

girl jeans kid loneliness

Continuing to insist that young people be resilient, see them as victims or worse yet, villains, does nothing to address how environmental factors impact their well-being. Practitioners and educators must expand their approaches to promoting the healthy development and wellness of  youth. Particularly relevant is this approach to engaging young people of color, who face intense challenges on a daily basis.

When we view trauma as a collective experience, we are better positioned to identify the systems intersecting with and impacting their lives. It is the necessary awareness of systems, policies and practices with which young people engage, react and respond,  that must be addressed in engagement practices. A step farther, addressing these factors guides practitioners and all who engage youth to also take action. Empower youth, encouraging and arming them with useful tools and skills that will be relevant to the healing journey. Enlighten them, highlighting people, places and pathways into their possibilities. Validating, affirming and encouraging the restoration of  hope, with an eye on the future, promotes their sense of agency and potential for creating changes necessary for life success. Healing-centered engagement prepares young people to upset the setup.

Healing-centered engagement calls educators to expand their reach beyond the classroom. It calls practitioners to expand their reach outside of their offices. It calls us all to do more than ask young people to be resilient and to cope, and adapt. We are driven to see the potential of young people, hear their cries and help them create their solutions. When we see young people beyond their skin color or income or culture or religion or sexual orientation, but as individuals who each have potential, the possibilities are endless.

We believe in them until they believe in themselves. We believe for them and act as parts of the solutions while demonstrating and modeling to them the ways to advocate for themselves. We tell them what their options are, we give them their histories, and we celebrate their cultural and personal identities. Preparing children for adult life means building academic skills, social-emotional literacy and the capacity for civic engagement.pointing gun

We often look at the choices young people make and wonder whether they consider a better tomorrow. Well, many grow weary from having to cope day after day, struggling to survive the immediate challenges and cannot imagine life beyond the present. No, they don’t see themselves in a different life or a life absent the trauma and toxic stress. That is not their fault. They can’t and shouldn’t be held accountable or blamed for many of their inadvisable choices and actions. Do not allow children and youth to assume and/or internalize blame. They didn’t make the rules. We did. We did so, either purposefully or without any concern for the impact on their development.

Don’t wonder why they use violence and guns for conflict resolution, disengage from school, disrupt classrooms, and present with an angry demeanor. Don’t wonder why they don’t trust us. They tell us why, when we look outside of our comfortable environments. We follow the rules and willingly uphold the policies that lie at the root of the trauma they experience-individually and collectively. They can’t change these rules by themselves-not without our help.

Help them to upset the setup. Guide them toward actions that are organized, mapped and well-thought out, and intentional to create changes. Healing-centered engagement is strictly political, not clinical. Remember that!

Healing-Centered Engagement: The New Focus for Wellness

The focus on trauma and traumatic experiences in health care, education and child welfare has represented a new awareness of the impact trauma has on the way individuals and families navigate their daily lives. Trauma impacts the body, mental health and the learning process. Behaviors and coping skills can be directly traced to trauma responses.

Being trauma-focused, however, is to view and approach others in a deficit mode. What happens is that this approach is still grounded in the notion of ‘what’s wrong?’ AND ‘what happened to you?’. Interventions and engagement between practitioners and individuals spend too much time delving into the trauma itself. The time spent should be goal and action-oriented and healing-centered.

While trauma-informed, as a backdrop to engaging others as a helping professional, the process of healing should take center stage.  With young people, for example, trauma-informed approaches refer to a set of principles that guide and direct how we view the impact of severe harm on mental, physical and emotional health. It speaks to the whole person, rather than individual symptoms or specific behaviors.

In schools, leaders almost universally believed that the best way to address disruptive behaviors is through harsh discipline. In this way, discipline alone was seen as appropriate and sufficient to modify undesired behaviors in the classroom. However, for young people who may have experienced trauma, this approach re-traumatizes and does further harm. A trauma-informed approach may offer therapy or counseling to support the student’s well-being, rather than discipline.  

There are limitations to that approach. There is the risk of associating a young person with their traumatic experiences. In other words, we risk defining youth by their trauma. That is unfair, because they are more than their experiences. It can create a blind spot when we focus interventions solely around the trauma.

That approach is incomplete in that way. It assumes that trauma is an individual experience or event, when it could in fact, be a collective one. Collective trauma requires a different approach than a individual one. Children living in environments with frequent exposure to violence, will share a collective trauma. Being trauma-informed is helpful, but doesn’t consider the context or the root causes of trauma in communities.

By treating only the trauma experienced by the individual or the collective, we leave those toxic systems, policies and practices in place-unchanged. When speaking to promoting resilience in youth, essentially, we are asking them to continue to adapt, adjust and cope with whatever they are confronted by in their daily lives. We are sending the message that we will not address the part of the equation that is in their environment: systems, policies and practices. These will not change; so, they must ‘get used to it’. Remain healthy, when everything around you is bombarding and overwhelming the capacity to cope.

How long will we continue to ask children, specifically black and brown and lower income families, to be resilient amidst ongoing systemic inequity? The fact that there are collective experiences of trauma, whereby the signs and symptoms are commonly presented, is an indication of something greater than the children themselves. When we  focus only on the ‘patient’, without addressing the environmental factors that influence the way the ‘patient’ presents to us, we simply ensure the continuation of ‘treatment’. It also guarantees that there will be an ongoing client or patient population– infinitely. Where is the healing, the solutions-focused approach?

Focusing on reducing or eliminating pathology[trauma] rather than promoting possibility[well-being] is where a trauma-informed approach is limited. The absence of disease doesn’t constitute health. The absence of violence also doesn’t indicate peace. Aiming to reduce negative behaviors, reduction pathology[anxiety, anger, fear, distrust, sadness…], doesn’t constitute or help to create well-being[hope, happiness, imagination, aspirations, trust].

Children want to be happy as does everyone else, not just have less misery. Focusing on enhancing conditions that promote and contribute to well-being offers a holistic view of healing from traumatic experiences and environments through a fresh set of lenses. Healing centered, as opposed to trauma-informed, is holistic. It involves culture, civic action, spirituality and collective healing. This approach, Healing-Centered Engagement[HCE], views trauma not simply as an individual isolated experience, but rather highlights the ways trauma and healing are experienced collectively.

The term expands how we think about our responses to trauma and offers a more broadened and inclusive approach to fostering well-being. HCE is strengths-based and re-centers culture as a central feature in well-being. We re-frame trauma with language that is humanizing, and ask the question of ‘whats right with you’ instead of ‘what happened to you’. It views those who’ve been exposed to trauma as agents in the creation of their own well-being as opposed to victims of traumatic events.

The healing centered approach comes from the idea that people are not harmed in a vacuum, and well-being comes from participating in transforming the root causes of the harm within institutions. Healing centered engagement also advances the move to “strengths-based’ care and away from the deficit based mental health models that drives therapeutic interventions. There are four key elements of healing centered engagement:

  1. Healing centered engagement is explicitly political, rather than clinical.             Communities, and individuals who experience trauma are agents in restoring their own well-being. This subtle shift suggests that healing from trauma is found in an awareness and actions that address the conditions that created the trauma in the first place. Researchers have found that well-being is a function of the control and power young people have in their schools and communities (Morsillo & Prilleltensky 2007; Prilleltensky & Prilleltensky 2006). These studies focus on concepts such as such as liberation, emancipation, oppression, and social justice among activist groups and suggests that building an awareness of justice and inequality, combined with social action such as protests, community organizing, and/or school walk-outs contribute to overall well-being, hopefulness, and optimism (Potts 2003; Prilleltensky 2003, 2008). This means that healing centered engagement views trauma and well-being as function of the environments where people live, work and play. When people advocate for policies and opportunities that address causes of trauma, such as lack of access to mental health, these activities contribute to a sense of purpose, power and control over life situations. All of these are ingredients necessary to restore well-being and healing.
  2. Healing centered engagement is culturally grounded and views healing as the restoration of identity.                                                                                                             The pathway to restoring well-being among young people who experience trauma can be found in culture and identity. Healing centered engagement uses culture as a way to ground young people in a solid sense of meaning, self-perception, and purpose. This process highlights the inter-sectional nature of identity and highlights the ways in which culture offers a shared experience, community and sense of belonging. Healing is experienced collectively, and is shaped by shared identity such as race, gender, or sexual orientation. Healing centered engagement is the result of building a healthy identity, and a sense of belonging. For youth of color, these forms of healing can be rooted in culture and serves as an anchor to connect young people to a shared racial and ethnic identity that is both historical grounded and contemporarily relevant.
  3. Healing centered engagement is asset driven and focuses well being we want, rather than symptoms we want to suppress.                                                                     An asset driven strategy acknowledges that young people are much more than the worst thing that happened to them, and builds upon their experiences, knowledge, skills and curiosity as positive traits to be enhanced. While it is important to acknowledge trauma and its influence on young people’s mental health, healing centered strategies move one step beyond by focusing on what we want to achieve, rather than merely treating emotional and behavioral symptoms of trauma. This is a salutogenic approach focusing on how to foster and sustain well-being. Based in positive psychology, healing centered engagement is based in collective strengths and possibility.
  4. Healing centered engagement supports adult providers with their own healing.                                                                                                                             Healing is an ongoing process that we all need, not just young people who experience trauma. The well-being of the adult youth worker is also a critical factor in supporting young peoples’ well-being.  Healing centered engagement has an explicit focus on restoring, and sustaining the adults who attempt to heal youth- a healing the healers approach.

 

Coming up next, the critical components of healing centered engagement, practical applications and the positive implications of effective practices.

Physical Restraint: Adult Violence Against Children

Children,  as young as 5 years old, have been arrested and placed in handcuffs at school. There are times when, in the lives of all families, children get into trouble-either in the home, at school or in the community. That is just a fact of life. This ‘trouble’ can become an issue that may warrant the direct involvement and intervention of outside agencies and/or authorities. Depending upon age and nature or severity of the ‘trouble’ as well as jurisdiction, these children can be referred to the juvenile justice system. In some cases, it can be child welfare systems who become involved in this child’s and family’s life. Almost all are determined to have the authority to  potentially separate children from their families and communities through out-of-home placement. Residential facilities, such as secure detention centers, house children placed there as a consequence of some inappropriate behaviors, among them violent criminal acts.

However, not every young person is placed in detention facilities because of violence they have subjected others to, but some can be placed out of the home for the violence they have experienced or been subjected to. My concern does not center on what brings children into the ‘system’, all under an umbrella of ‘child welfare’ or ‘juvenile justice’, this message pertains to the policies and practices of behavior management while in custody. This is my exploration of children’s experiences of legitimized violence in the form of ‘restraints’, utilized in detention facilities that are regulated and taxpayer-funded.

The very nature of the imprisonment of children,  children held in custody, is that it is inherently unsafe and presents more negative, and sometimes life-long harm than positive life-affirming outcomes. Where’s the academic growth and life skills preparedness? Where is the social-emotional learning and support? Where and who are the role models? How are families meaningfully engaged and empowered? If these elements are not present and embedded in policy and daily practices, then what is the point? …..to put more young people in jail, keep them contained, all serving to keep you feeling safe in the knowledge that they are ‘in their place’?

A physical restraint is defined as any method of one or more persons restricting another person’s freedom of movement, physical activity, or normal access to his or her body. It is a means for controlling that person’s movement, reconstituting behavioral control, and establishing and maintaining safety for the out-of-control individual, other individuals, and school staff. Physical restraints have been in widespread use across most human service, medical, juvenile justice, and education programs for a long period of time. While some have proposed physical restraint as a therapeutic procedure for some children and youth, this view has no scientific basis and is generally discredited.

Harmful and unsafe care characterizes the vast majority of  punitive settings in which children are placed. Behavior management interventions, designed to ensure children’s safety, rely too heavily on the displays of violence, from adult to child. It sounds rather absurd that children are continued to be ‘controlled’ as though it were 200 years ago, with full awareness that these techniques and even worse physical restraints were used to control and oppress enslaved people. Yet, it is being justified as a strategy for ensuring children’s safety, keeping them from harm.

When was the last time that we have ever seen depicted in any film, a white person or parent, as a normal means of disciplining their child, doing so without suggesting some dysfunction or abuse? The intervention most often is a calm and rational discussion at the dinner table. The outcome is either curtailed privileges or increased responsibilities. Of course, that is all wrapped up by the ‘go to your room’ command.

Given the genius and intelligence all around us, students and scholars alike, and the illuminated expertise across all fields of study,   one must examine why there are any reminders of strategies used by whites to control blacks, as though they were animals, still in existence and used with children. Also in our field of awareness, it is statistically factual, that the vast majority of youth in custody, detention centers and other  residential settings, are children of color. Why does this not trigger any alarms?

When children get into physical fights, it is usually with other children. From a child’s earliest ages, adults discourage the use of violence as a way to resolve conflict. Parents warn their child, “Don’t hit!” “That’s not nice.” However, children model their behaviors and coping mechanisms by quietly observing their adult behaviors. While many children in custody have special needs, most of these needs pertain to past trauma. Therefore, it is most advisable that we not re-traumatize them as a means of controlling outbursts.

The routine use of physical restraint as a response to challenging behaviors is highly questionable and truly problematic. There is evidence that points to the conclusion that there are no safe restraint positions. Furthermore, the use of physical restraint does not work, in terms of keeping children safe. Children in custody have said that they did not change their behavior because of the threat of physical restraint.

Given the consistent over-representation of black and minority ethnic boys in custodial settings, retraint practices have been highlighted as a particular problem for these children. Pain-inducing physical retraint is categorically wrong and should be discontinued. Some argue that it can be used in caring and supportive ways that make children feel contained, safe and in control. Adult violence against children is not a demonstration of care.

We must consider how ‘restraint’ is experienced by children. Pondering this question should bring us to recognize its validity, and thus question whether it is acceptable in any circumstances. Research concerning the use of physical restraint in custodial settings has historically been carried out by adult researchers, although there are certainly examples of research focusing on how children experience physical restraint. Children appear to accept that restraint may sometimes be justified. However, they also complain that restraint is often chaotic, traumatic and harmful; it can trigger complex and problematic responses.

The use of physical restraint may appear to be ‘a given’ as a necessary means of managing problematic behavior. There is an underlying justificatory assumption, drawing on the dual conceptualization that children are inherently irresponsible; and that some children are either at risk or pose a risk – the victim or threat dichotomy that lurks beneath the discourse around locking up children. There seem to be justifications for treating some children as being beyond control, and ‘in need’ of coercive interventions, for their own protection or that of others.

What is often overlooked is the recognition that children are already citizens with human rights underpinned by national and international legislation and standards. In the under‐recognition of this perspective, there has been little debate about the way that challenging situations can be managed with children in custody, in ways which preserve their rights and personal integrity.

As adult policy and decision makers, including those who are ‘on the ground’ in real-life situations where children are in custody, absent family consent, advocacy or support, it would be presumably morally appropriate to question the rights of any one to place their hands on minor children.Beyond that, how do we convince ourselves that physical restraint, violence, as a form of behavior management is morally, psychologically or professionally without harmful consequences to the child being restrained.

Although children can commit very harmful transgressions against others, we know that they are still developing and can’t reliably engage the world nor can they process and manage impulses and emotional responses to everyday life challenges. However, as adults, more mature and compassionate, our life experience and professionalism, inform us that very clearly. Additionally, ‘violence begets violence. Using violence to manage behaviors is counter-intuitive to the messages we send t children every day about how violence is pointless. Undoubtedly, there are less harm-producing ways to de-escalate situations and bring order to an environment than violent physical restraint.

Better solutions may be identified through a more full involvement of children in order to generate more insightful strategies for punishment, and/or reducing the incidents of potential danger from harming themselves or others. We want to understand better the experiences of children who are subject to physical restraint by staff in secure facilities. Also, there should be a sincere desire to consider the value that alternative techniques may hold from the perspective of children and young people.

This entire topic raises important questions about children’s rights, parental rights and children’s voice. Do they have a voice in determining policy and practices which impact them directly? What exactly constitutes and defines ‘breaking the law’? What is the age of criminal responsibility and then what is the legitimacy of punishment? We must have clear, well-thought out policies and provisions for maintaining and ensuring children’s safety, even when they have demonstrated what looks to be their disregard for the safety of themselves and others.

Consulting with youth who were formerly immersed in the everyday experience of imprisonment and the use of physical restraint, they will surely have very real and powerful recollections of scenarios in which it had taken place. In addition, the passage of time meant that they would have been able to reflect on the bigger picture, looking beyond the individuals involved or the minutiae of events. Are we asking children to accept restraint as an inevitable feature of the custodial regime, and in so doing, perpetuating their own use of violence as a coping strategy, and simultaneously asking them to believe that it is ‘for their own safety’?

Discussing children’s experiences of being restrained, or witnessing its use, children can inform us of things that led up to the incident itself. Have we not considered that, situations outside of institutions can be identified as the ‘trigger’ for displays of violent behavior? Family issues, outcomes of court proceedings, existing frustrations about practitioners or service providers?

Gender stereotyping and what constitutes ‘normal’ behavior, invites us to acknowledge how gender, and the politics of identity might impact on the way that children’s behavior in custody is understood. Anger and frustration, confusion and a sense of powerlessness with limited learned coping mechanisms that are pro-social are not so subtle indicators that behaviors are often misplaced emotional releases.

In institutions whereby its purpose is to provide safety and structure to children, while they are expected to comply with rules and behavioral expectations, need to also provide opportunities for children to have voice in their care. Children need to feel that these spaces provide them with safety, from harm[esp. from adults], when their histories may reflect violence. In these environments, any past trauma may be logically assumed by staff and should caution against unintentional re-traumatization through policies and practices.

Children need to expect that in institutions that they are placed in will be safe spaces, though regimented and guided by strict rules of conduct. We want them to feel that they are all accepted as they are individually, while certain behaviors are not tolerated. These institutions should want to ensure that children learn to process and regulate their emotions, but aim to teach them, pro-social strategies for coping and expressing their normal range of emotions without judgment, blame, coercion or oppression.

Why Are We Silencing The Voices of Children Impacted By Armed Conflicts

415 Million children worldwide are living in a conflict zone, including 149 million children living in high-intensity conflict zones where more than 1,000 battle-related deaths occur in a year.This number is highest in Africa, where 170 million children live in conflict. In the Middle East, the highest share of children, 1 out of 3, live in conflict zones.

Conflict is becoming increasingly dangerous for children.  Although children are raising their voices regarding the verified violations and dangers facing and impacting them, their voices are not sufficiently heard. Their potential is both under-recognized and underfunded.

Girls are at far higher risk of sexual and other types of gender-based violence, including forced and child marriages. Boys are more likely to be exposed to killing, maiming, abductions and recruitment. Easier to identify and verify are public-sphere violations whereby these involve boys. The accuracy with which boys, as victims, are reported is greater than violations against girls.

The spaces that girls occupy are often unseen or ignored by others, rendering experiences of sexual violence and violations against girls and children of diverse gender identities under-reported and invisible.

Some children are growing up knowing no other life circumstance than conflict and violence. The effects of conflict on children are multiple and wide-ranging. They include the physiological impact of explosive weapons; mental health
and psycho-social consequences of witnessing and
experiencing violence; and the socioeconomic impact– and egregious consequences for children’s rights – of eroding infrastructure, displacing communities and damaging basic services and support.

The exposure of large numbers of children to these harmful effects is driven by three core deficiencies:
• lack of compliance with international rules, laws and norms
• failure to hold perpetrators of violations to account
• insufficient practical action to support children and enable their recovery.

 

Growing up as a child in a country like Colombia
is really difficult. It is not easy to develop in
an environment where violence in all its facets
is seen and lived on a daily basis, and where children are not seen as actors in building a peaceful society. We hear all the time that children are the future. But those words are not accompanied by the actions of adults.

Abandoned by families and schools, many children’s development, education and participation are permeated with despair. In Colombia there are very few ways for children to participate. It is not in the culture to think that the voices of children count. If things were different, different stories could be born.

My dream for the children of my country is that we can grow up healthy and free to enjoy our childhood. That we can enter spaces where we feel safe to speak and know that our voice counts. And that we are taught and learn to live in peace from a young age. Parents must support their children in this – as with education, children’s participation in decision-making begins at home.

My message to world leaders is to recognize
that children in Colombia live in different situations and are affected by conflict in different ways. As children, we need opportunities.

Everything you do for someone matters, that is
where change begins.

José, children’s rights advocate,
age 15, Colombia

It is essential to recognize that conflict affects children in different ways depending on age, gender and disability. Boys and girls face different risks, have different needs, are represented in the data differently and require different types of support.

When Kalonji’s village in the Democratic
Republic of Congo was attacked by an armed
group, his father was killed and his home
torched. “Now I’m an orphan,” he says. “No
father, no mother.”
Kalonji fled with his brothers and sisters.
Alone, they walked 70 km to reach safety.
But in their new surroundings, day-to-day
survival is a struggle.
“There are days I don’t eat,” he says.
“I brought nothing [from my old home].
No books. I need clothes, a school uniform,
books and food.”
Kalonji is determined to get an education
and build a better future for himself and his
community. At school his favourite subject is
maths. “When I finish my studies here, I will
go to Lubumbashi to start university,” he says.
His dream is one day to become the head
of his school. “I’m studying to be the director
of the school,” he says. “I want to study so
I can train the children.”

Almost 18% of all the world’s children live in conflict zones. The four countries with the highest numbers are Nigeria, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, October 2019 marked 18 years since the start of the conflict between coalition forces and the Taliban. Every child in the country– 20 million children in total– was born and is being raised in a state of war. In Syria, in December 2018, the UN reported that after eight years
of fighting, 4 million children –half of the country’s children –have only ever known war.

In some places, it is a common expectation that boys will join a militia once they reach puberty. Girls often fill support functions, such as food prep and other domestic tasks, in addition to being abused and exploited as child brides of fighters.Forcibly married, these girls often find themselves abandoned, divorced or left widowed.

Women and girls constitute the largest single group of individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder globally. Girls who were formerly associated with armed forces or groups and who’ve survived the violence need urgent adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and psycho-social support to address traumatic experiences. SADEYES

The detention of children and deprivation of their liberty has increased. This includes those detained in child facilities, prisons or camps. During detention, children face torture and/or ill treatment, and have died in custody due to ill treatment or poor conditions. They become prisoners of war and to date no Geneva Convention or other international peace talk/guideline, has changed the fate of children impacted by conflict and war.

With conflict across the globe, particularly in black and brown nations, every time we endeavor to declare war on one another, as adults-win or lose- we lose. When children lose, we all lose. Children are our most valuable resource and our legacy. Exposing them to the absence of peace during their growing years, is dooming them to lives also filled with conflict and destruction.

It is abusive of adults to model conflict without peaceful negotiations and resolutions. The most important cause, not for, but against war and conflict, is because we wish for children to be children- happy, healthy, safe, supported and stable.

We must listen to their voices and hear their cries to understand how conflict impacts them and disrupts their childhood. Protecting children is protecting our humanity. As young and innocent as they may be, amidst it all, they do see that. Why can’t we?