Psychological tests for every child

10th November 2000 at 00:00
THERE was something odd about the way the children played with one another - they were happily forming friendships, a sight rarely seen since they had fled to Belgrade as victims of the fighting in the former Yugoslavia.

Their parents and grandparents had come together to discuss Yugoslavia's first Montessori school, which is due to open in Belgrade on Monday.

The school may offer a breakthrough for some of the children of tens of thousands of refugees from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. Many are still struggling to adjust to normal school life, up to eight years after escaping the conflict.

A spokesman for the Yugoslav education ministry said: "The psychological traumas suffered by the refugees and those affected by the bombing are a big worry throughout the country.

"We have counselling and therapy services but we need more."

The school has been organised by Tera, a women's self-help group, and will be funded initially by the Catholic Refugee Service in Baltimore. It will have six teachers and 30 children aged from three to six, some of whom will be referred by psychologists.

Mirjana Kalat, a former teacher, wants her five-year-old grandson, Stefan, to attend the school. Her son and his family fled Knin in what is now Croatia in 1995 but Stefan was born in Belgrade. His family had lived in Knin for generations and Stefan has never known where to call home.

"He can't fit in at the state school but here, with other refugees, he will have shared experiences," said Ms Kalat."The lessformal way of teaching could help, too."

Arriving in their new home often adds to the children's problems, according to Zvezdana Savic, a clinical psychologist based in Belgrade.

"Refugees have trouble adapting to any new environment because they are coming from their own sub-culture," she said.

"The basic defence mechanism is to suppress problems. If that lasts six months, we call it post-traumatic stress syndrome and it will continue to manifest itself in problems much later in life."

The children are ignored by their peers and suffer an identity crisis because they do not know where they belong. They need a lot of empathy but often have to live in overcrowded accommodation with parents who also have serious problems.

"There are many state counselling services and sadly we now have much experience in dealing with this problem," said Ms


"We need to do more but don't have the money. These problems do not go away and will affect the sufferers when they have children themselves."

It is not just the refugees who have suffered. Many Belgrade residents still suffer nightmares about last year's bombing.

Now every child has psychological tests before they start school and there is a psychologist in each Belgrade school.

"The longer these problems build up, the harder they are to solve," said Ms Savic.

"Children are aware of everything that goes on around them but lack the vocabulary and experience to vocalise it, so it can be harder to help them."

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