An evidence-based analysis of the psychosocial adaptability of conflict-exposed adolescents and the role of the education system as a protective environment
Place of publicationUkraine
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The ongoing armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, now in its fifth year, remains omnipresent in the daily lives of young people across the country including through its far-reaching socio-economic consequences and, for those living near the contact line, continued exposure to shelling and military operations. This study, based on analysis of data collected among 3,331 adolescents aged 13-17 from 48 randomly selected schools in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, provides an ecological and evidence-driven approach to exploring, firstly, how conflict exposure and other adversities impact on key development outcomes, and secondly, how life skills, school connectedness and family connectedness can provide protective buffers. Specifically, the study found that conflict exposure is associated with a broad range of internalizing and externalizing mental health problemswhereas exposure to micro-systemic violence (e.g. family abuse, school victimization) is additionally associated with school drop-out tendency and reduced readiness for civic participation. As for sources of resilience, the study found that collaborative skills and executive skills, in combination with parent support and teacher support, contribute most to resilience in adolescents exposed to violence in their microsystem. In contrast, adolescents that are resilient in the face of conflict exposure are more likely to be characterized by supportive relationships with peers, emotional connection to the school, inter-dependent values, collaborative problem-solving skills and tolerance of diversity. The study then goes on to explore in greater detail the specific role that can be played by the education system, measured through the concept of school connectedness, as a protective environment for adolescents, and to consider how gender differences should inform programming. Recommendations of the study include, among others, developing and piloting interventions to increase executive and collaborative skillsprioritizing interventions that strengthen parental involvementand scaling up the provision of psychosocial assistance to educational professionals near the contact line.