Project Background

After successfully completing Stage One of the Protecting Children in Disasters Program in China, it was agreed that the program could have applicability to other countries in the region.

Key Cambodian mental health colleagues indicated strong interest in adapting the work developed by China to the Cambodian context. As a result, AAMH and the Cambodian National Mental Health Program collaborated to secure funding for a program of work.

During that time the Cambodian national mental health system was being rebuilt and new ways of working nationally and internationally were being negotiated.

Key Objectives

  • To build wide stakeholder support for the program and to develop a core team capable of delivering the program for Cambodia.
  • To adapt Asian-specific materials for Cambodia’s needs in protecting children in extreme stress.

Key Outcomes

  • A new project bi-lateral team formed involving Cambodian Ministry of Health, Buddhist priests, NGO’s, educators and community members, and Asia-Australia Mental Health
  • Awareness raised in the Cambodian community of the need to address children’s mental health post disaster
  • New materials produced (developed from the Protecing Children in Disasters Project, China) to protect young people and families post-disasters in Cambodia
  • Capacity building activities in local communities
  • Community mental health programs strengthened more broadly.
  • Evaluation of the project

Children in disasters

Exposure to traumatic events can overwhelm children and adolescents’ ability to cope. Depending on their age, children respond to traumas stress in different ways. Many children show signs of intense distress—disturbed sleep, difficulty paying attention and concentrating, anger and irritability, withdrawal, repeated and intrusive thoughts, and extreme distress—when confronted by anything that reminds them of their traumatic experiences. Some children develop psychiatric conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and a variety of behavioural disorders.

While some children recover quickly, traumatic experiences can result in a significant disruption of child or adolescent development and have profound long-term consequences. Repeated exposure to traumatic events can affect the child’s brain and nervous system and increase the risk of low academic performance, engagement in high-risk behaviours, and difficulties in peer and family relationships.