Psychosocial adjustment and mental health in former child soldiers--systematic review of the literature and recommendations for future research.
ABSTRACT: This article reviews the available quantitative research on psychosocial adjustment and mental health among children (age <18?years) associated with armed forces and armed groups (CAAFAG)--commonly referred to as child soldiers.PRISMA standards for systematic reviews were used to search PubMed, PsycInfo, JSTOR, and Sociological Abstracts in February 2012 for all articles on former child soldiers and CAAFAG. Twenty-one quantitative studies from 10 countries were analyzed for author, year of publication, journal, objectives, design, selection population, setting, instruments, prevalence estimates, and associations with war experiences. Opinion pieces, editorials, and qualitative studies were deemed beyond the scope of this study. Quality of evidence was rated according to the systematic assessment of quality in observational research (SAQOR).According to SAQOR criteria, among the available published studies, eight studies were of high quality, four were of moderate quality, and the remaining nine were of low quality. Common limitations were lack of validated mental health measures, unclear methodology including undefined sampling approaches, and failure to report missing data. Only five studies included a comparison group of youth not involved with armed forces/armed groups, and only five studies assessed mental health at more than one point in time. Across studies, a number of risk and protective factors were associated with postconflict psychosocial adjustment and social reintegration in CAAFAG. Abduction, age of conscription, exposure to violence, gender, and community stigma were associated with increased internalizing and externalizing mental health problems. Family acceptance, social support, and educational/economic opportunities were associated with improved psychosocial adjustment.Research on the social reintegration and psychosocial adjustment of former child soldiers is nascent. A number of gaps in the available literature warrant future study. Recommendations to bolster the evidence base on psychosocial adjustment in former child soldiers and other war-affected youth include more studies comprising longitudinal study designs, and validated cross-cultural instruments for assessing mental health, as well as more integrated community-based approaches to study design and research monitoring.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>Globally, one in four children lives in a country affected by armed conflict or disaster often accompanied by exposure to a range of adversities including violent trauma and loss. Children involved with armed groups (often referred to as "child soldiers") typically exhibit high levels of mental health needs linked to their experiences. The Longitudinal Study of War-Affected Youth (LSWAY) in Sierra Leone is a seventeen-year prospective longitudinal study of the long-term effects of children's experiences in the country's eleven-year (1991-2002) civil war on their adult mental health and functioning in addition to exploring the potential mechanisms by which intergenerational transmission of emotional and behavioral disruptions due to war trauma may operate. LSWAY illuminates how war-related and post-conflict experiences shape long-term adult functioning, family dynamics, and developmental outcomes in offspring.<h4>Discussion</h4>The LSWAY study utilizes mixed methodologies that incorporate qualitative and quantitative data to unpack risk and protective factors involved in social reintegration, psychosocial adjustment, parenting, and interpersonal relationships. To date, study findings demonstrate striking levels of persistent mental health problems among former child soldiers as adults with consequences for their families, but also risk and protective patterns that involve family- and community-level factors. This case study examines the course of LSWAY from inception through implementation and dissemination, including building on the study results to design and evaluate several intervention models.<h4>Conclusion</h4>The case study offers a unique perspective on challenges and field realities of health research in a fragile, post-conflict setting common in the context of humanitarian emergencies. LSWAY findings along with lessons learned from the field can inform future research as well as intervention research and implementation science to address the mental health and development of war-affected young people. With four waves of data collection and a planned fifth wave, LSWAY also provides rare insights into the intergenerational effects of humanitarian crises on children, youth, and families across generations.
Project description:<h4>Objective</h4>To investigate the associations of war and postconflict factors with mental health among Sierra Leone's former child soldiers as adults.<h4>Method</h4>In 2002, we recruited former child soldiers from lists of soldiers (aged 10-17 years) served by Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration centers and from a random door-to-door sample in 5 districts of Sierra Leone. In 2004, self-reintegrated child soldiers were recruited in an additional district. At 2016/2017, 323 of the sample of 491 former child soldiers were reassessed. Subjects reported on war exposures and postconflict stigma, family support, community support, anxiety/depression, and posttraumatic stress symptoms.<h4>Results</h4>Of the subjects, 72% were male, with a mean age of 28 years. In all, 26% reported killing or injuring others; 67% reported being victims of life-threatening violence; 45% of female subjects and 5% of male subjects reported being raped; and 32% reported death of a parent. In 2016/2017 (wave 4), 47% exceeded the threshold for anxiety/depression, and 28% exceeded the likely posttraumatic stress disorder threshold. Latent class growth analysis yielded 3 trajectory groups based on changes in stigma and family/community acceptance; "Improving Social Integration" (n = 77) fared nearly as well as the "Socially Protected" (n = 213)