Helping Ukrainian parents to be there for their children
Interview with endowed professor Trudy Mooren
Trudy Mooren is committed to providing family support for Ukrainians here and over there. Trudy Mooren has been endowed professor of 'Family Functioning Following Psychotrauma' at the Department of Clinical Psychology at Utrecht University. The endowed chair has been established by ARQ.
The year 2022 will go down in Dutch history as the year war broke out in Ukraine, but according to Trudy this war started long before then. “Actually, the east of the country has been turned upside down since 2014, but that didn’t pervade here as much. Since the Russian invasion in 2022, more than eight million Ukrainians have been displaced. Besides the elderly, it was mainly women and children who came to the Netherlands. Some of the mothers themselves have had shocking experiences. They live in fear for their loved ones left behind. Here they have to raise their children on their own, not knowing whether they are going to stay here or go back.”
"We have known for a long time that parental trauma often spills over, both within the family and to subsequent generations."
Are the children being seen and heard?
We have known for a long time from treatment experience and research that parental trauma often has an effect, both within the family and on subsequent generations. Trudy: “In pregnant women, severe stress leads to hormonal changes that can translate into their behaviour, including within the family. Communication within families is another factor. After the Second World War, families sometimes had objects in their homes that referred to people who had not returned from the Holocaust, but they were not spoken about. The crux is: can parents, despite any terrible things they’ve been through, still remain available to their children? Do they see what’s going on inside them? Can they say: bad things happened in the past, but it’s OK now? At ARQ, we are now trying to promote parental support for children in Ukrainian families. That is important now, but also to stop the possible transmission of trauma. I am working on this in three ways together with colleagues from ARQ.”
“First of all, we thought: we need to monitor how the Ukrainian refugees in the Netherlands are doing and how they are developing during their stay here. We do that in a research project called ‘Nadiya’, which means ‘hope’. In the coming years, with funding from Utrecht University and ZonMw, we will be following a group of Ukrainian refugees from the age of 8 by presenting them with a questionnaire four times.”
"Can parents, despite the terrible things they’ve been through, still remain available to their children? Do they see what’s going on inside them?"
Supporting early intervention centres in Ukraine
A second project is in collaboration with the Dutch foundation Giro555 and revolves around supporting professionals in Ukraine. “Our target group consists of teams working at early intervention centres. These centres support families with a child with special educational needs. Since March 2022, we have been conducting a weekly one-hour consultation for teams in Odessa. It is about the mental well-being of the care providers themselves, which is not new to them. What is new are experiences that we can share about grief in children and the importance of talking about emotions. Certainly about the losses they suffer: loved ones die or are on the frontlines, they have sometimes had to leave their home and the familiar daily schedule and future plans are no more. Loss can make you nostalgic yet often depressed. Lately, we have only been doing our consultation once every two weeks. This is now mainly focused on training the trainers so that they can guide other teams in their country.”
The importance of peer contact
A third project has recently started. “We will use European money to support Ukrainian refugees in Poland, Romania and Slovenia in cooperation with the VU University Amsterdam. We are going to organise a system for parent groups. We have noticed for a long time that contact with peers can be a huge support, including when it comes to parenting.”
Check out Trudy Mooren’s inaugural lecture on the consequences of psychotrauma for family relationships.
ARQ has been providing psychosocial support in Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis as a guest partner of the Dutch foundation Giro555.