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Supporting Children in the Balkans With New Models of Community-Based Mental Healthcare

New holistic intervention methods are strengthening the capacity of caregivers and community childcare workers to provide children adequate support for their physical, mental and social development.
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Mental health challenges are believed to be a significant contributor to the burden of disease in Europe. Trauma experienced by children who have suffered difficult family environments, neglect, abuse and institutionalization can often lead to adverse mental and social adjustment in adulthood.

In 2019, with support from Johnson & Johnson Foundation and Johnson & Johnson Consumer, the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation partnered with SOS Children’s Villages on the Strong & Healthy project in the Balkans aimed at improving the well-being of children living with trauma and behavioral problems through capacity strengthening for caregivers and community childcare workers.

The initiative focused on achieving practice change to enhance human health and transform lives by introducing a holistic, innovative combination of three new intervention methods into childcare systems (including SOS Children’s Villages International programs and local program providers and organizations in the community).

1. Empowered and Resilient: The Protective Behaviors Program enabled caregivers, experts and parents to build skills which promote resilience and empower children and young people to cope with difficult, unsafe or abusive situations.

2. Peaceful and Healthy: Professional Assault Response Training equipped caregivers with coping mechanisms to manage challenging, threatening or violent behavior of children in their care in a secure way. This training also encompassed an innovative United Conflict Management component.

3. Healing from Trauma: Trauma healing trainings were locally selected by the participating SOS Children’s Villages organizations based on local needs and held by local trainers. Training methodologies and topics centered on areas such as learning support strategies for children with neurodevelopment difficulties, mentalization-based approaches and selfcare through mindfulness.

“Working with children and families I encounter different experiences… By participating in these workshops, children have the opportunity to recognize dangers, to respond to signals given by their body and to seek help from adults. When I was informed that I would be part of the team that would be trained, I was very grateful to have the opportunity to master the methodology of Protective Behaviors, which is extremely useful. I am especially pleased that I will be able to pass on the same methodology to other professionals in the community.”
– Edita Pajić, Training Participant, Bosnia

The project brought together professionals from around 20 organizations working in the areas of mental health, education, social welfare and alternative care. The trainings also contributed to cross-sector collaboration to support children at risk and added specialised interventions for these children to the existing services offered by these organizations.

From 2019 through 2021, the project achieved significant results for health professionals, children and youth, and parents across five participating countries:

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“This work is directly aligned to the United Nations’ 2030 SDG Goal 3 focused on good health and well-being,” says Antonio Delgado, Program Director, Global Community Impact, Johnson & Johnson. “By improving the well-being and resilience of at-risk children experiencing psychological trauma and behavioural problems daily, the Strong & Healthy project helped to address existing social and economic disparities in the participating countries and contributed to strengthening mental health support structures for children in Europe. Together, we have worked to help reduce early school drop-out rates, alleviate the risk of poverty and social exclusion and, by building the capacity of professionals, supported improved quality of care for children in need.”