Children & Disaster Resilience 

Funded by GCRF
PI: Penny Curtis/ Jill Thompson, University of Sheffield. Co-I: Dylan Yamada-Rice, RCA 

This is a network project to explore the promotion of disaster resilience in children. It draws together academics from the UK, Fiji, Samoa and New Zealand. 

The initial network idea drew on research that has shown how children are more vulnerable to the effects of disaster and yet the mental and behavioural outcomes in children following disasters, and their post-disaster psychological reactions (anxiety, depression, phobias etc.) are often not identified. 

Our network draws together interdisciplinary researchers to recognise the  negative effects of disasters and the importance of promoting disaster resilience in order to better protect and help children that may develop post-traumatic mental health illnesses. To do so we are exploring the potential for culturally appropriate, sustainable, pre- and post-disaster public health interventions.

Pacific Island Countries and Territories are at heightened risk of natural disasters and there is growing concern that climate change will increase the extremity and frequency of extreme weather events in the region  (Lafale et al, 2018, World Bank, 2012). Globally, substantial evidence attests to the effects of disaster-related, mass trauma on the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of children (Kar, 2009), and the promotion of children’s resilience in these contexts has been noted as a global priority (Masten & Narayan, 2012). With relatively young populations, the number of children potentially affected in Fiji and Samoa, where this project is based, is significant.

While guidelines emphasise the potential of disaster preparedness and response interventions to support children’s resilience (Masten & Narayan, 2012), evidence from rigorous evaluations of their effectiveness is extremely limited (Masten & Narayan, 2012; Maynard et al, 2019). In Samoa and Fiji, strong cultural norms influence intergenerational communication and perceptions of mental health: mental health difficulties are often stigmatized (Subicaa et al, 2019) and hierarchies of respectful communication mean that it is not culturally appropriate for children to express their feelings openly to adults. There is, therefore, an urgent need to understand the potential for culturally appropriate, sustainable, population level public health measures that support children’s disaster-related resilience.


The overarching aim was to develop an interdisciplinary network to research feasible, culturally appropriate, sustainable, public health interventions to promote children’s disaster-resilience in Fiji and Samoa.


Multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral workshops to:

1)  document current strategies and processes for managing pre- and post-disaster psychosocial support for children in the Pacific, identifying strengths and challenges. Tropical cyclone Winston (Fiji 2016) and the 2009 Tsunami (Samoa) will be case studies.

2)  conduct fieldwork in Fiji and Samoa with children, families, communities, NGOs, faith-based and governmental organizations to identify issues and challenges associated with developing and implementing disaster-related psychosocial support for children.

3)  consider 1&2 in light of current knowledge regarding disaster-resilience work, paying particular attention to the potential of interventions involving play and expressive arts within the cultural and infrastructural realities of Fijian and Samoan contexts.

4)  promote capacity building in partner organisations

5)  plan for and prioritise research to develop/refine and evaluate sustainable, culturally appropriate intervention/s



Kar, N. Psychological impact of disasters on children: review of assessment and interventions. World J. Pediatr. 5, 5–11 (2009).

Lafale, P. F., Diamond, H. J. & Anderson, C. L. Effects of Climate Change on Extreme Events Relevant to the Pacific Islands. Pacific Marine Climate Change Report Card. Science Review (2018).

Masten, A. S. & Narayan, A. J. Child Development in the Context of Disaster, War, and Terrorism: Pathways of Risk and Resilience. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 63, 227–257 (2012).

Maynard, B. R., Farina, A., Dell, N. A. & Kelly, M. S. Effects of trauma-informed approaches in schools: A systematic review. Campbell Syst. Rev. 15, 1–18 (2019).

Subicaa, A. M. et al. Mental illness stigma among Pacific Islanders. Psychiatry Res. 273, 578–585 (2019).

World Bank. Pacific Islands: Disaster Risk Reduction and Financing in the Pacific. (2012). Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/results/2012/04/01/pacific-islands-disaster-risk-reduction-and-financing-in-the-pacific. (Accessed: 29th August 2019)