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Dr Patrick O'Leary with children in Darfur
Dr O'Leary is researching ways to improve child protection in areas affected by war or natural disasters

Internal News - 17 November 2008

New research will help protect children living in a war zone

Dr Patrick O'Leary, from the Department of Social & Policy Sciences, is collaborating with humanitarian aid organisation Terres des hommes (Tdh), Lausanne, Switzerland to write a new manual for child protection workers in war zones and places struck by natural disasters.

Dr O'Leary, a Senior Lecturer in Social Work, has recently spent time in Darfur, western Sudan, learning about the current methods used to support and care for children in the aftermath of natural or humanitarian crises and looking at ways to improve practices.

In regions of civil war such as in Darfur, children can suffer a whole host of dangers such as malnutrition, abuse, abandonment or even recruitment into the militia or child labour. Many children face risks from playing unsupervised in places that may expose them to dirty water or unexploded bombs.

The project builds on previous research work he has carried out in Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Albania and will implement new procedures to ensure the best possible level of child protection. It has been funded by Tdh and the University of Bath. The findings will be used to write a manual for child protection workers, due to be published at the end of the year.

Dr O'Leary and colleagues from Tdh are implementing a management system for individual cases and child assessment tools to assess and monitor children for changes in wellbeing, behaviour and attendance at support centres.

Tdh have set up a number of child-friendly spaces where children can play and get support in a safe environment. Many of these develop into support centres where children can be educated in issues such as hygiene and safety; these centres also allow staff to identify hidden issues that might be affecting the child such as abuse or abandonment.

Dr O’Leary explained: “Many of these centres currently don’t keep records of individual children so the rapid child assessment tool will act as a checklist, keeping track of attendance and picking up on problems that might be affecting the child’s wellbeing.

“The centres often have to rely on local staff that may have low levels of education; this means that aid organisations must concentrate on providing basic training to their staff to give the highest level of care possible.”

The recommendations from the research will be published in a report at the end of the year. Dr O’Leary will continue to work with Tdh on child protection research in emergency zones such as Darfur in 2009.