Cultural Considerations War is hard on anyone involved; however, it is especially hard on the children who are forced to live with it or in close proximity to it. Children typically lack the worldview to process the level of violence that occurs during war. The Nigerian children who were rescued from the refugee camp lived in extremely poor conditions and before arriving there were subjected to serious events that may change them forever.
They are likely suffering from some severe psychological effects of war-time violence that need to be addressed in order to break the cycle of violence they may be in, but also to ensure their mental health both now and in the future. There are several aspects of psychological recovery that need to be addressed. First, it is important to understand the possible psychological effects of violence these children are experiencing. An intervention plan must be put in place to help mitigate the effects of this violence while also instilling the children with the resilience they need to begin living a ‘normal’ life.
Other important considerations in helping these displaced and traumatized children would be cultural sensitivity, making sure to integrate their own culture and religion into their new lives here, and any ethical considerations that need to be made during treatment and resilience training with regard to the children’s situation and their cultural background. Perhaps, out of all who witness the destruction and devastation of the violence that accompanies war, children may be the most affected.
According to Smith (2001), there are many negative effects of witnessing war besides the already serious effect of being exposed to violence. Children lose important access to basic resources such as good food, clean water, shelter, school, and basic health care. Losses of these resources can seriously impede not only physical growth, but cognitive and emotional growth as well. Additionally, as is the case with many of these refugees, family relationships may be tenuous at best with parents missing or dead and siblings separated due to the war itself or the inability to place family members in the same foster care unit.
These children may be discriminated against or stigmatized if they have been forced to fight in the war, or, in the case of the girls, because of the religious stigma attached with sexual immorality, sexually transmitted diseases, or even children they have been forced to birth at the hands of captors (Smith, 2001). War and violence also take away a child’s ability to look at the world as a decent place, call into question the meaning of life and events, and shatter a child’s perception that he or she is worthy as human being (Condly, 2006).
Additionally, the type of violence these Nigerian refugees have been exposed to puts them in danger of seeing violence as normal, thereby increasing their risk of continuing the cycle of violence in their lives as they grow up. According to Feldman (2010), middle childhood, which ranges from ages eight to thirteen, is characterized as a time when children are learning to form their worldview. Children who see a worldview that is shaped by violence, death, rape, and separation from that which is familiar (specifically family and culture) can have tremendous adverse effects on children’s development.
There first step in an intervention program for these children should be to give them the basic resources they were lacking in the refugee camp. These children need proper food, shelter, access to medical treatment, and the security of a safe environment. The children need to have access to grief counseling, treatment for any post-traumatic stress disorder they may be experiencing, and a system of adult support in place that can, at the very least, provide guidance in place of lost parents.
Equally important is matching the children with foster care that is either culturally similar, or at least willing to make the effort to let the children express themselves culturally. The foster families, if not culturally the same as their refugee child or children, should be well schooled or trained in how the culture of their foster child handles death, mourning, memorials, sexual assault, and religious beliefs. Classes need to be made available for the children and their foster families that promote healthy self-esteem, the importance of cultural identity, and the worth of self after these have been shattered (Machel, 1996).
Classes that would be useful in intervention at these young ages may be drawing, painting, and storytelling. All of these types of classes foster communication and may help the children express their feelings more easily than just talking. Additionally, team sports would be recommended to help build self-esteem and a peer support group (Argosy, 2011). Within the community at large, I would recommend cultural awareness classes and I would make them necessity for any families that take in foster children.
I would also make crisis intervention classes mandatory for the families as well. The families also need to be aware that there will need to be a strong emphasis on education for the children they take in because they have been without basic education for the time they were in the refugee camp (Argosy, 2011). Part of my intervention plan will be devoted specifically to fostering resilience in these refugee children. To do so, integrated into their school days, classes will be held to teach the children appropriate conflict resolution strategies.
At this point, the children have seen and been part of so much violence that they have likely come to see everyday violence as a way of life, or as an appropriate way to handle problems they may encounter. They need to be, in a sense, re-wired to see violence for what it is: a self-perpetuating cycle that does not resolve conflict, but creates more (Smith, 2001). The children need to be involved in activities, such as group sports or volunteer projects, which help them develop an adequate peer support group while also teaching them to re-build rather than tear down.
Doing this will help improve their self-esteems while also supporting the basic tenant that society and community exist to make people feel like they are part of a larger whole rather than individuals who have no support or nowhere to turn in times of crisis or trouble. The foster parents need to be counseled in the importance of making their homes beacons of support for these displaced children. For this reason, it is appropriate to blend cultural universality and cultural specificity together in the intervention programs.
The United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (2009) both state that it is possible to reconcile these two ideas as far as human rights are concerned. All children have the same rights to live in peace, be educated, and have the basic resources mentioned above at their disposal. Additionally, though there will definitely be some difference with regard to how the children handle what they have been through based on religion and tribe.
As Williams (2007) noted, to some extent, trauma is just that, trauma, and needs to be treated as such. Most of these children will likely be suffering from some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which, despite cultural differences, can largely be treated the same way. However, cultural specificity maintains that these children are treated with respect and with an understanding of their unique “spiritual beliefs, cultural norms, and the basic essence of the culture in order to intervene appropriately” (Argosy, 2011, p. ). This is another reason why foster care and counselors should be carefully chosen based on the children’s diverse beliefs, and at the very least, families taking in foster children should be screened and taught culturally sensitive tactics for dealing with these children if they are not an exact cultural match. There are certain specific Nigerian customs that should be taught to foster families (if they are not of the same culture) to help the refugee children integrate more easily into their new environment.
For instance, according to Culturegrams (2011), “greetings are highly valued among the different ethnic groups” (p. 1). Because there are over 250 different languages spoken in Nigeria, greetings are most often in English, but are warm, courteous, friendly, and extremely important in conversation (Culturegrams, 2011). The country is fairly evenly divided between Christianity and Islamic faiths, with Islam in practice just slightly more than Christianity.
Ideally, families should take children of their same faith so as to limit the amount of religious conflict between the refugee children and their foster families (Culturegrams, 2011). Another very important part of Nigerian society is the formation of age grades. Age grades are groups, beginning around age ten, of members in the same general age group. To join one, you must be sponsored by a member of the group. This practice is specifically important to these refugee children because the point of age grades is to foster a sense of community solidarity and peer connectedness for all involved in each group.
They may lead to ‘secret society’ type activities which are also important because they bind common religions together and provide additional peer connectedness (Culturegrams, 2011). Because of the disconnectedness that a lot of these refugee children are likely feeling, I would certainly advocate the importance of these groups to foster parents, as being around others who have been through related trauma may provide solace for the children from Nigeria. It would be important to consider both age grades and greetings in making the children feel comfortable in their new environments.
How they respond to intervention may be directly linked to how close they feel to their own traditions and culture in a new and foreign place. Another consideration to make in this situation is how the ethics of psychology and therapy play into what has happened. The first demand of ethics in psychology is that, as therapists, we do no harm to our clients (American Psychological Association, 2010). In order to be sure that this is taken into consideration, a certain level of trust has to be reached.
Clients, and in this case, the children and their new foster families, have to understand that they can trust their therapists implicitly to keep what happens in sessions private. The American Psychological Association (2010) states the following Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination. Psychologists are aware that special safeguards may be necessary to protect the rights and welfare of persons or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making.
Psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status and consider these factors when working with members of such groups. Psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices. (p. ) As such, it is of the utmost importance that not only do we, as psychologists, understand and be willing to learn about the different cultures and nuances that may be present in the Nigerian refugees, but that we are able to confidentially (unless there is some real and present danger to the client) and with cultural sensitivity act to help these children and their new foster families create a cohesive and supportive bond that aids these children in a complete (as possible) recovery from the trauma they have experienced (APA, 2010).
Essentially, no matter where a person is from, no matter what their age, cultural background, religious affiliation, gender, etc. , these children deserve a fresh start with all the help we can give them. To do so, we must remain vigilant, willing to help, culturally sensitive, and be available to help however we can. These children are still just that: children. We must remember that our aim is to help them integrate into a new situation while still retaining their root culture and help them realize that, despite what has happened to them, they are still people worthy of the same chances others have.
References American Psychological Association. (2010). Ethics and principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Retrieved 17 November 2011 from http://www. apa. org/ethics/code/index. aspx# Argosy University. (2011). Module 5 course notes. Retrieved 17 November 2011 from http://myeclassonline. com Condley, S. J. (2006). Resilience in children: a review of the literature with implications for education. Urban education, 41(3), 211-236.
Retrieved 17 November 2011 from the EbscoHOST database. Culturegrams. (2011). Federal Republic of Nigeria. Retrieved 17 November 2011 from http://online. culturegrams. com. libproxy. edmc. edu/world/world_country_sections. php? contid=1;wmn=Africa;cid=115;cn=Nigeria;sname=Life_Cycle;snid=28 Feldman, R. S. (2010). Child development (5th ed. ). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. Machel, G. (1996). Impact of armed conflict on children.
UNICEF. Retrieved 17 November 2011 from http://www. unicef. org/graca/a51-306_en. pdf Smith, D. (2001). Children in the heat of war. Monitor, 32(8), 29. Retrieved 17 November 2011 from http://www. apa. org/monitor/sep01/childwar. aspx Williams, R. (2007). The psychosocial consequences for children of mass violence, terrorism, and disasters. International Review of Psychiatry, 19 (3), 263-277. Retrieved 17 November 2011 from the ProQuest database.