Background and Purpose: As international social work research about the health effects of war evolves, we have more information about how it is not only the manifest acts of war that cause harm. New research is showing how the deterioration of societal and neighborhood contexts under political violence undermine well-being – particularly for children. As well, social work scholarship increasingly points to the importance of understanding how the poverty that accompanies political violence threaten the health of children and families. Yet except for a few exceptions, these factors – neighborhood quality and what has been referred to as economic precarity (Akesson, 2020) are often overlooked within social work literature about suffering within political violence. As we attend to adding we need more social work scholarship about the ways that children and their families use their neighborhood context to derive comfort, maintain basic needs, and build resilience. Our work responds to this need to understand the mental health implications of place-based and economic contexts within conflict settings. Using data from participatory mapping and interviews with 75 children across multiple sectors of Palestine, our work draws out how the deterioration of living environments that characterizes political violence explains, at least in part, the individual and collective sequela of suffering endemic to warfare for children.
Methods: In this IRB-approved study, interviewers asked children (N=75) to draw maps of their neighborhood, and to use three different colors to denote places as safe, neutral, and unsafe. Then they were asked to describe their maps and took part in open-ended interviews. Data were imported into qualitative software programs, coded, and analyzed using a constant comparative method.
Results: Our analyses of children’s data revealed the multiple ways they experience violence and poverty in their neighborhoods, and the associated implications for their health and well-being. At the same time, findings from our study reveals the many ways that children find beauty, peace, and a sense of continuity and shared identity from the spaces they inhabit and love.
Conclusions and Implications: Through focusing on the interactions between children and their everyday experiences of place, our analysis was able to draw out particular findings related to the consequences of economic and neighborhood deprivation within a context of political violence. In so doing, our findings help us to understand more how we might be better prepared within social work to conceptualize and study the multiple stressors within war, and to design policy and practice interventions that address and counter the destruction of children’s living environments within warfare.