05:15am Sunday 29 March 2020

Understanding the Impact of Violence on Children

The research was conducted by University of Ulster student Kate Ellis, who today is awarded her doctorate at Ulster’s winter graduation ceremonies at the Coleraine campus. As part of her research, Kate questioned children in Northern Ireland and then replicated the study – in Hebrew – with a similar sample of children living in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  

She explains that the way violence manifests itself differently across the two cultures could be a reflection of the differences between societies in these two countries.  

“Northern Ireland has seen a huge increase in community violence, especially since the peace agreements of 1998.  There has also been an increase in anti-social behaviour and substance abuse including drugs and alcohol amongst young people. In contrast Israeli society experiences less community violence and the young people there often experience a stricter upbringing structured around compulsory military service.   

“Religion and family are still very large influences in both countries, but in Israel religious practices are often more time consuming – with families spending weekly days together observing them.”   

Another key finding of the research and an important difference observed between the two samples was that Israeli children reported much higher levels of depression than samples of children living in non conflicted countries such as England and America.  Whilst they reported few behavioural and emotional difficulties, the children in the Israeli sample appeared to be at a much greater risk of developing depression.   

The children in the Northern Irish sample however did not report levels of depression that were any higher than normative samples of English and American children.  Again this may be a reflection of cultural differences, Kate adds.   Whilst the children in the Northern Irish sample did not report elevated levels of depression they did report considerably more behavioural and emotional difficulties in comparison to normative samples.   

She says that despite the many differences between these two cultures there appear to be some similarities; both in terms of how these young people experience emotional difficulties and which variables can exacerbate the impact of political and community violence.   

“Whilst children in the Israeli sample were not at a significantly higher risk of emotional and behavioural problems like their Northern Irish counterparts, regression analysis did show that higher exposure to both political and community violence were predictors of emotional and behavioural problems as well as child depression.  This was the same pattern as found in the Northern Irish sample. However in the Northern Irish school sample, exposure to community violence was a much stronger indicator of potential difficulties.” 

It is hoped that an examination of the two societies individually and in comparison could lead to a better understanding of the impact of exposure to community and political violence on young people. 

Kate says that examining two societies at different stages of conflict, one still ongoing and one on the post peace accord road, led to some interesting observations and she hopes that lessons may be learnt about the ‘lasting’ nature of the impact of violence on young people.Professor Ed Cairns supervised the research. 

Kate is now working as an assistant forensic psychologist in a secure hospital unit in Kent, England and also carries out research on OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) in prison populations within a young offenders’ institute.      
For further information, please contact:

Press Office, Department of Communication and Development
Tel: 028 9036 6178

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