New training resources to help young people support one another during emergencies

“I Support My Friends”, launched today, is providing children and adolescents with the skills and knowledge they need to support their friends during distressing events. Based on the principles of Psychological First Aid (PFA), the training has been piloted in Japan, Jordon, Mongolia and Turkey, with encouraging results.

“When I first heard about PFA, I thought it was something only professionals could do and it would be difficult. However, I enjoyed learning about listening to my friends, asking for help if I believed it was right to do so, and helping to reduce my friends’ concerns.” said a 15-year-old girl participating in a training session in Japan.

The design and piloting of the programme is a collaboration between WHO, UNICEF, Save the Children and the MHPSS Collaborative.

“Children and adolescents are often the first to see how their friends are affected by distressing events, whether in the home or school environment or during a large-scale emergency such as a natural disaster or conflict situation,” said Dr Ali Schafer, the WHO lead for the project. “Equipping children with the right skills to support one another can have huge benefits in terms of their ability to cope and move forward in difficult circumstances.”

The resource kit, for adults who plan to conduct the training, is aimed at 9-17-year-olds. It includes four components: a theory and implementation guide; a training manual for a 3-day course for children; a children’s participant workbook; and a manual for training of facilitators. Sections on how to prepare for and monitor and evaluate the training as well as considerations relating to gender and inclusivity are also included. The materials have a special focus on empowering children to also work with responsible adults and encourage a peer-to-peer support approach as part of wider efforts to secure the basic needs and rights of children, adolescents and their families.

Although “I Support My Friends” has been piloted in protracted humanitarian and development settings, it has not yet been used in the more acute phase of an emergency. Today’s launch will pave the way for its use in such situations.

The training can be conducted either directly by an organization with the required expertise or in partnership with another entity, such as a school, government or community-based organization. Collaboration with local partner institutions or community networks is key to having a broad reach and sustainable impact. The training can also be integrated into existing programmes such as those for child protection, health promotion, education, life-skills training, peacebuilding initiatives and disaster preparedness.

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