Children as Therapeutic Orphans in Humanitarian Research

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Trauma research in children poses a variety of ethical concerns, and these concerns, further exacerbated in the context of a humanitarian crisis, may understate the need for research. It can be difficult to navigate what justifies research versus treatment in children, and therapeutic interventions may easily draw from existing knowledge of pediatric research outside a trauma context. In doing so, however, the unique needs of children following a large-scale disaster or trauma are overlooked, creating an evidence-based knowledge gap. This paper will evaluate ethical considerations in humanitarian crisis research, such as natural disaster, community crisis, and refugee resettlement, and show that research should be designed with an ethical consideration of not merely protecting vulnerability but rather enhancing the resilience of children in traumatic events. Furthermore, it will be argued that when research is not engaged in this way, a more problematic ethical concern arises similar to the ‘therapeutic orphan’ in clinical research. By failing to engage in research of children who experience traumatic events, not only do their health and social needs go unmet, but they also lose an opportunity to give voice to their own self-determination in the midst of distress and insecurity.


AUTHOR AFFILIATION: Alana Monzon, The Ohio State University, USA,