Our Research on Parenting in the Syrian Conflict

Background to the research

The research was initiated by Aala El-Khani in March 2012. Aala started her PhD in the School of Psychological Sciences at The University of Manchester in March 2011, the same month the Syrian conflict started. Aala had set out to explore parenting in the Arab culture and adapt and then evaluate parent programmes to support Arab parents.

As the Syrian conflict intensified and with millions of children and families suffering as a result, Aala decided to refocus her efforts into exploring parenting challenges and support needs in the conflict and finding effective ways to support those looking after children in the very challenging conditions of the war.

Aala is working with Rachel Calam, Professor of Child and Family Psychology and Kim Cartwright. The team has worked closely with and been assisted by non-governmental organisation Watan and their two institutions Generation Freedom and Khayr Charity Foundation. Watan, Generation Freedom and Khayr have been providing humanitarian assistance and education to displaced children in Syria and its neighbouring countries since the start of the conflict. Their wealth of knowledge and experience of working in the conflict and on the ground logistical support has enabled the research to be conducted whilst the safety of families and researchers maintained.

Aims of the research

First, we wanted to find out whether it was possible to conduct research safely and ethically in the Syrian conflict. This is so that we could ultimately find effective ways to reduce psychological suffering in children and families impacted by the war.

Second, we wanted to find low-cost, quick and dependable ways to assess the mental health of children living through the war and learn more about the severity of psychological distress in children. This was so that we could understand the psychological needs of children and help humanitarian workers to rapidly and reliably identify children in need of psychological support.

Third, knowing the important role that parents play in protecting children from mental health problems in war, we wanted to understand what challenges parents displaced by the Syrian conflict were facing and what their specific parenting support needs were. This was to make sure that we developed parenting interventions that were tailored specifically to the needs of families displaced by the war.

Fourth, with the help of Syrian families who had fled the war and resettled in the UK, we developed parenting interventions to enhance parent-child relationships and mental health in families specifically for the Syrian conflict.

Fifth, we wanted to and we are still continuing to test whether families found the parenting interventions useful and whether they benefit families in relation to improving child and parent mental wellbeing and parent-child interaction.

Sixth, if we find that the parenting interventions do benefit families, we hope that they can be delivered to large numbers of families displaced by the Syrian conflict.


Read more about the Research

A group-based parenting programme for displaced families has also been developed by the team in collaboration with the Children and War Foundation and Watan and in consultation with Syrian parents who have fled their homes in Syria and resettled in the UK. We have completed a pilot trial of the intervention delivered to displaced families living in neighbouring countries to Syria.