Children and Mothers in War: An Outcome Study of a Psychosocial Intervention Program

Post-war psychosocial counseling for mothers leads to positive physical and psychological outcomes for their children.


Armed conflict has severe and prolonged psychological impacts on survivors who experienced the traumas of war either directly or indirectly. The impact of war is often amplified among children. Because mothers’ own physical and mental health may contribute to their children’s healing and growth, targeting children alone may not be sufficient. This study examines the effects of a psychosocial intervention targeting mothers in Bosnia and Herzegovina on their young children’s health and development.


In Bosnia, post-war psychosocial treatment for women improves their mental health, wellbeing, and life satisfaction, and improves the health of their children.

  • After the treatment, mothers experienced a reduction in symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome, as measured by the Impact of Event Scale.
  • Children of mothers who received the treatment experienced a reduction in problem behaviors, such as restlessness, distractibility, clinginess, and drastic mood changes, as determined by psychologist observation.
  • Children whose mothers received treatment gained an average of 600 grams more than those who did not receive the intervention, and improvements were seen in weight for height and weight for age measurements.

In short, satisfying the psychological needs of mothers can have a positive effect on their children’s health.


This field experiment was carried out in Tuzla, a multiethnic industrial town in northeastern Bosnia, in the months following the Bosnian conflict’s conclusion. Mother-child dyads were randomized to participate in either the treatment or control groups. The treatment group received a psychosocial intervention designed to help refugee mothers overcome their psychological problems to improve mother-child interaction while also improving the wellbeing of children. Mothers in the treatment group participated in small discussion groups designed to provide support and increase their wellbeing, self-confidence and their ability to care for their children. Both women and children in the treatment and control groups received free basic medical care. Only displaced families with children born in 1990 or 1991 were invited to participate, as these children would have lived a vast majority of their lives in a conflict environment.

Prior to and approximately six months after the intervention, both mothers’ and children’s cognitive development and psychological and physical health were assessed by teams of trained local health professionals to measure the impact of the intervention.

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