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Forced displacement is a major driver of mental disorders among refugees worldwide. Poor mental health of adult refugees, particularly mothers, is also considered a risk factor for the psychological well-being and development of their children. In this paper, we experimentally examine the extent to which a rigorous psychoeducation program promotes psychological well-being of refugee mothers and socioemotional, physical, and cognitive development of their children under the age of 2 years. Through a clustered randomized controlled trial among the severely persecuted Rohingya refugees residing in Bangladesh, roughly 3,500 mother-child pairs were given weekly psychosocial support for a year that includes psychoeducation and parenting counselling for mothers and play activities for children. We find that the intervention led to significant improvements in: (i) psychological trauma and depression of mothers and children, (ii) communication, gross-motor, problem-solving, and personal-social skills of children, and (iii) happiness and belongingness of mothers. A causal mediation analysis suggests that the psychological well-being of mothers is the primary channel of impact on children’s development. The intervention also caused the mental health of mothers to be more aligned with the mental health of their sons, but not with their daughters. Finally, we also find that the intervention had a stronger impact on the mental health of mothers that were highly exposed to violence and persecutions during the 2016-17 Rohingya genocide in Myanmar than mothers with minimal exposure.
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