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Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

Psychosocial Support & Social and Emotional Learning

Humanitarian crises profoundly impact children and youth since they cause long term disruption of every aspect of daily living, including housing, health, sanitation, recreation, and education. Crises can disrupt family relationships, disturb social cohesion, and can create feelings of isolation, uncertainty, fear, anger, loss, and sadness. Long term exposure to a disaster or conflict without appropriate mitigation can be damaging to both physical and mental health. The impact emergencies have on the functioning of families and communities in turn impacts the development of children and young people. Exposure to adversity, particularly in early childhood, can lead to lifelong impairment of learning, behavior, and physical and mental health (Shonkoff, Boyce, & McEwen, 2009).

While some stress in life is normal and even necessary for development—children need to experience some emotional stress in order to develop healthy coping mechanisms and problem solving skills—the type of stress a child experiences when exposed to a conflict or natural disaster can become toxic if there is intense, repeated, and extended activation of the body’s stress response system, particularly if there is no supportive adult figure to offer protection (Center on the Developing Child, 2016; Shonkoff & Garner, 2012).

In emergency situations, education is a major factor in the mental and physical protection of children and can be a key psychosocial intervention. If properly delivered, education can offer learners a safe, stable environment in the midst of crisis, and help restore a sense of normality, dignity, and hope by providing both routine and structured, supportive activities that help build children’s cognitive, social, and emotional skills.

Key Messages

Why is education a relevant channel through which to provide psychosocial support?

  • Safe schools and non-formal learning spaces are some of the most beneficial environments for children and youth during a period of uncertainty. Intentional investment in education-based PSS has proven to protect them against the negative effects of disasters by creating stable routines, providing opportunities for friendship and play, fostering hope, reducing stress, encouraging self expression, and promoting collaborative behavior (Action for the Rights of Children, 2002, unpublished manuscript; Alexander, Boothby, & Wessells, 2010Masten, Gewirtz, & Sapienza, 2013).
  • Psychosocial wellbeing is a significant precursor to learning and is essential for academic achievement; it thus has important bearing on the future prospects of both individuals and societies.
  • PSS and SEL approaches work best when integrated into the different spheres of young people’s lives. Since education settings bring children and their peers, parents, families, and communities together, they can help create a supportive environment that promotes improved psychosocial wellbeing. Ideally, the education and community settings that surround each child work together to ensure that they receive the best possible care and follow up; this includes communication between teachers and parents, counsellors if needed, etc.

Key Terms from the INEE Guidance Note on Psychosocial Support (Forthcoming)

  • What does psychosocial mean?   Psychosocial refers to “the dynamic relationship between the psychological and social dimension of a person, where the one influences the other” (IFRC Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support, 2014, p. 11). The psychological aspects of development refer to an individual’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, memories, perceptions, and understanding. The social aspects of development refer to the interaction and relationships among the individual, family, peers, and community (UNRWA, 2016, p. 4). Source: INEE Guidance Note on Psychosocial Support (forthcoming)
  • What is psychosocial support?   Psychosocial support, or “PSS”, refers to the “processes and actions that promote the holistic wellbeing of people in their social world. It includes support provided by family and friends” (INEE, 2010a, p. 121). PSS can also be described as “a process of facilitating resilience within individuals, families and communities” (IFRC Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support, 2009, p. 11). PSS aims to help individuals recover after a crisis has disrupted their lives and to enhance their ability to return to normality after experiencing adverse events. Source: INEE Guidance Note on Psychosocial Support (forthcoming)
  • What is social and emotional learning?   Social and emotional learning, or “SEL”, has been defined as the process of acquiring core competencies to recognize and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, appreciate the perspectives of others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle interpersonal situations constructively” (Elias, Zins, Weissberg et al., 1997). The qualities SEL aims to foster include self awareness, emotional literacy, cognitive flexibility, improved memory, resilience, persistence, motivation, empathy, social and relationship skills, effective communication, listening skills, self esteem, self confidence, respect, and self regulation (INEE, 2016, pp. 10-11). SEL is an important component that sits under the PSS umbrella. INEE views SEL as an important component of PSS that educators can and should address, since it is a practice easily and often employed in educational settings and one that contributes to children’s and youths’ improved psychosocial wellbeing. It is a pedagogical practice and process that is especially fitting in both formal and non formal educational environments, since it promotes the skills and abilities that help children, young people, and adults learn. Source: INEE Guidance Note on Psychosocial Support (forthcoming)
  • What is meant by “wellbeing”?  Wellbeing is defined as a condition of holistic health and the process of achieving this condition. It refers to physical, emotional, social, and cognitive health. Wellbeing includes what is good for a person: having a meaningful social role; feeling happy and hopeful; living according to good values, as locally defined; having positive social relations and a supportive environment; coping with challenges through positive life skills; and having security, protection, and access to quality services. Aspects of wellbeing include: biological, material, social, spiritual, cultural, emotional, and mental (ACT Alliance & Church of Sweden, 2015, pp. 42 43). Source: INEE Guidance Note on Psychosocial Support (forthcoming)

Key Activities

INEE Guidance Note on Psychosocial Support

The purpose of the INEE Guidance Note on Psychosocial Support is to clarify the importance of supporting the psychosocial wellbeing of children and youth, and to offer specific strategies for how to incorporate psychosocial support (PSS) into education responses. This resource addresses a gap in the tools that are currently available to educators and professionals operating in emergency and crisis contexts, providing PSS guidance that is specifically oriented to the education sector.

This Guidance Note encourages more intentional and consistent implementation of practical, high-quality psychosocial interventions on the education frontlines by teachers, education administrators, counselors, and other education personnel. It is useful for government entities, ministries, policy makers, community groups, humanitarian workers, parents, peers, and families for planning, programming, policy, and advocacy purposes. The content is also useful for those working in related sectors, including protection, child protection, mental and public health, and others.

The Guidance Note was conceptualized by the INEE Standards and Practice Working Group and the INEE Education Policy Working Group, and written by Zahirah McNatt, Dr. Neil Boothby, Dr. Mike Wessells, and Rita Lo of the Columbia Group for Children in Adversity (CGCA). Additional writing and technical research was provided by Jo Kelcey (NYU Steinhardt). A Reference Group of INEE Working Group members and external mental health, child protection, education, and psychosocial support experts reviewed drafts of the guidance.

The Guidance Note is available in English in the INEE Resource Database. Translations of the Guidance Note have been completed in Arabic and Spanish. INEE is looking for support to design the other language versions.

INEE Background Note on PSS and SEL

Originally published in December 2016, the purpose of this INEE paper is to clarify relevant terminologies and approaches relating to psychosocial support (PSS) and social and emotional learning (SEL) in education in crisis affected contexts, and to explore how the two concepts relate to one another. The target audiences for this paper are education practitioners, academics, and policy-makers working in education in emergencies and protracted crises. In addition to the original English version, French, Spanish, and Portuguese versions of the paper are available. An Arabic version is forthcoming. You can access all versions of the paper in the INEE Resource Database.

This background paper was commissioned by the INEE Education Policy Working Group and the INEE Standards and Practice Working Group, and written by Vania Alves. Translations were provided by Emeline Marchois (French), Claudio Osorio (Spanish), and Andreia Soares (Portuguese). INEE Intern Natalie Brackett designed all versions of the paper.

INEE Round Table on PSS and SEL

In October 2017 the INEE held a Round Table on Psychosocial Support and Social and Emotional Learning in Florence, Italy. The event was hosted by the NRC and the University of Florence. It brought together education and psychosocial support practitioners and researchers working in the field of education in and protracted crises, with the aim of sharing recent research and tools, discussing innovative approaches, and articulating knowledge gaps in the field of psychosocial support (PSS) and social and emotional learning (SEL).

Click the event page to see the final report, concept note, list of participants, biographies of speakers, videos, presentations, photos, etc.

Key Resources


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