The conflict in Syria has brought great physical and psychological devastation to its people over the last nine years. This prolonged exposure to conflict and insecurity can leave children with trauma and toxic stress. Injaz has been working since 2018 to support children and families in northeast Syria, by providing a psychosocial support (PSS) program implemented through local partners.
The program is grounded in the five core components of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationships skills, and social awareness. It utilizes sports, music, dancing, theatre, drawing, and storytelling, among other activities, to help children improve their psychosocial wellbeing. Over the life of the project, the program has reached 64,087 children aged 6 to 17 (31,955 female and 32,132 male) in Governorate A and Governorate B.
This midline evaluation was undertaken to provide Injaz with a better understanding of the psychosocial needs of the children in northeast Syria and to provide insights into how the program might be influencing children’s psychosocial wellbeing.
We utilized child and caregiver surveys that integrated three established and validated wellbeing measurement tools for children — the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, the SCARED-5, and the Children’s Hope Scale — to look at self-esteem, anxiety, and children’s hope for the future. The surveys were conducted with a total of 345 children (aged 10-17) and their caregivers (n=345) in formal and informal camps in Governorate A and Governorate B in Northeast Syria in December 2019 and January 2020.
In the formal IDP camp, we interviewed 115 children (49% female) living in the camp who had participated in the Injaz PSS program (beneficiaries) and 178 children (59% female) who had not (future beneficiaries). In the informal camps, only children who had participated in the Injaz PSS program (beneficiaries) and their caregivers participated in the evaluation, as the program had reached almost all the children in the camp already. There, we interviewed a total of 52 children (58% female) and 52 caregivers. We also interviewed one caregiver per child, for a total of 690 interviews.
This midline evaluation is a stand-alone research, as unfortunately no baseline data is available due to the rapid start-up requirements of the program. Therefore, the results can only provide us with insights into what possible effects the program may be having, as we were only able to compare the results at one point in time between children who while living in the formal IDP camp had participated in the program and children who had not, requiring us to assume similar “starting points,” an assumption that limits what we are able to extract from this research. We also compare the results in the two formal camp groups with those from the informal camps. Additionally, we collected child and caregiver reflections of change for children who participated in the PSS program, which provide us with insights into how children and their caregivers believe the children’s psychosocial wellbeing has changed since they first started in the Injaz PSS program.
The scores across the different aspects of psychosocial wellbeing measured – self-esteem, anxiety and children’s hope – show that children who participated in the Injaz PSS program were doing better than children who had not participated in the program in the formal camp, even if some of the differences were small and not found to be statistically significant. The difference in scores for self-esteem and children’s hope provided by caregivers were found to be statistically significant, while those for anxiety were not proven to be statistically significant. This means that we have some evidence that children who have participated in the PSS program have more self-esteem and more hope for the future than children that have not. This is encouraging for the Injaz program as it seems as though children are doing better when they have participated in the PSS program, which is its ultimate objective: to help increase children’s psychosocial wellbeing.
It is interesting to note that children in the informal camp group had scores that indicated a lower level of self-esteem, a higher level of anxiety, and a lower level of hope for the future than both the formal camp groups (comparison and intervention). There was only one exception, and that was for self-esteem when reported by children. Here, the formal camp comparison group had an equal score to the informal camp group. This indicates to us that children in the informal camps are generally not doing as well as children in the formal camps overall (with and without PSS). One reason for this could be related to their relatively less secure living situation.
When the psychosocial wellbeing scores on the three measurements were disaggregated by gender, we found that male children were reported as having lower levels of anxiety than female children, with the differences in scores found to be statistically significant across almost all research groups and respondents. No trends were found for self-esteem and children’s hope when the scores were disaggregated by gender. We were unable to find strong trends in the scores across the three psychosocial aspects by the age of the children.
There are some hints that older children might have greater hope for the future than younger children, but more research would need to be conducted to confirm this. No trends were identified in the scores when we disaggregated them by children’s primary exposure to ISIS or the length of their exposure to the PSS programming.
We also found that when we looked at the data by who reported it, children or caregivers, children reported having less anxiety than their caregivers. However, we found no clear trends for self-esteem and children’s hope.
The positive response rates on each of the 21 items of psychosocial wellbeing included in the three measurements were used to classify the items into different categories of concern: higher, medium, and lower. Six of the items are items of higher concern, where the majority of the children appear to need more support. An additional seven items fell into the medium concern category, where some children need support, but not the majority. Finally, eight items were categorized as lower concern items, where less than a quarter of the children need support, and the vast majority were reported to be doing well.
Ranking the three psychosocial wellbeing aspects measured from the least problematic to the most, we see that self-esteem had the most positive reports, followed by anxiety, and lastly children’s hope. This leads us to suggest that the current Injaz PSS curriculum should be reviewed to determine if and how it can be used to better support children’s hope for the future, followed by anxiety, and then self-esteem.
The positive response rates for the different items of psychosocial wellbeing also provide encouraging evidence that children in the formal camp with PSS are doing better than children without PSS. Children with PSS reported a higher positive response rate on 15 of the 21 items covered in this research. While we are unable to draw lines of causality due to research limitations, it does encourage us to believe that the influence of participating in the program could be playing a role in these differences. For example, when comparing respondents in the formal camp, 23% more of the respondents that are receiving PSS said that the child feels they have much to be proud of, 14% more said that the child does not feel useless at times, and 10% more said that the child believes they are doing just as well as other kids their age.
Adding to these findings, the reflections provided by children who participated in the Injaz PSS program (beneficiaries) and their caregivers indicate that many feel that the children have made positive strides towards better psychosocial wellbeing since they started the program. On 14 of the 21 psychosocial wellbeing items, 75% or more of respondents in the formal and informal camps intervention groups reported seeing improvements since the child started their participation, with some items seeing at least 90% of respondents noting improvements. Combining this with the 5 items where at least 50% of the respondents noted improvement, we can say that the majority of respondents noted improvements on 90% of the psychosocial items (19 of 21) reviewed. This is a strong indicator that these children and their caregivers have seen positive changes in the children’s psychosocial wellbeing since they started the Injaz PSS program. Though this research does not allow us to attribute that change to the program, it does encourage us to think that this might be the case.
In the end, we see every step towards greater psychosocial wellbeing for children living in northeast Syria as something to be celebrated as a success, and we believe that the findings of this evaluation provide us with encouragement that the program could be contributing positively to children’s psychosocial wellbeing. The children in these IDP camps and their families have faced grave violence, danger, and insecurity. They, and many other people living in conflict and crisis areas, require psychosocial support. We believe that this evaluation will help Injaz further modify its PSS programming to meet the needs of the beneficiary population, and we hope it will persuade other education providers to supply children with the psychosocial support they need to lead healthier lives, so they can contribute positively to their communities and the world at large.