Groups call for mental health advocacy among children

Olive Muchoki (left), Athena Morgan, Margaret Njihia, Pauline Kedogo and David Kitavi speak at Baraza Media Lab during a workshop on 'The Day of The African Child', June 12, 2024. [Robert Tomno, Standard]

Advocacy groups have urged the Ministry of Education to address the psychological struggles of children, especially those in conflict with the law.

They argued that despite the increasing awareness of the need for mental health support among children, those who find themselves entangled in the justice system often remain sidelined, their unique vulnerabilities overlooked.

Margaret Njihia, a clinical psychologist and child therapist, noted that natural disasters, war and grief heavily impact on children's mental well-being and physical growth. 

"When we talk about children and mental health, it is crucial to include those in conflict with the law. These children are not inherently criminal; they are products of environments that have failed them," she said.

Njihia called for quality mental support for children with policies that equip learning institutions with the necessary resources and training. 

"We have physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, emotional neglect, and physical neglect. Children growing up in households with chronic illness, violence, incarceration, or mental illness are particularly vulnerable," she said.

"There is also a dire shortage of pediatricians trained in developmental issues and shortage of teacher counselors in schools," she added.

In Kenya, the gaps in providing adequate psychosocial support to such children are stark. Further, there is no sufficient assessment mechanisms to identify and address the unique needs of children.

David Kitavi, founder and director of Ushirika School in Kibra highlighted some of the barriers to education such as teen pregnancies and substance abuse. 

"The recent floods have exacerbated these challenges, leaving many children traumatised and unable to focus on their studies," he said and called for comprehensive measures to address the challenges.