Sierra Leone’s Former Child Soldiers: A Follow-Up Study of Psychosocial Adjustment and Community Reintegration


  • We are endlessly grateful to all the local research assistants who carried out these interviews in Sierra Leone and our field-based project coordinators, Moses Zombo and Nassrin Farzaneh, who supervised the teams in 2002 and 2004. We are extremely indebted to Lloyd Feinburg, John Williamson, and Cathy Savino of USAID’s Displaced Children and Orphans Fund (DCOF). In addition, we are grateful to our colleagues at the International Rescue Committee, including Jane Warburton, Jodi Nelson, and many others who helped this project to succeed along the way. In particular, we would like to thank Catherine Weisner whose leadership was essential for launching the first wave of data collection. We would like to thank Laura Nolan, Kate Ittleman, and Harlyn Sidhu who helped compile and prepare the tables presented in this article and Julia Rubin-Smith who coordinated our Boston-based team. We would also like to thank Dr. Maggie Alegria of Harvard Medical School for her review of previous versions of this article, Dr. Garrett Fitzmaurice of McLean Hospital for his excellent statistical advice, and Sidney Atwood and Kathy McGaffigan for their tremendous skill in data management and analyses. This work was funded by USAID’s Displaced Children and Orphan’s Fund. The present publication was also supported by Grant 1K01MH077246-01A2 from the National Institute of Mental Health and Grant P60 MD002261 from the National Center for Minority Health and Disparities.

concerning this article should be addressed to Theresa Stichick Betancourt, Department of Global Health and Population/François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health, 651 Huntington Avenue, 7th Floor, Boston, MA 02115. Electronic mail may be sent to


This is the first prospective study to investigate psychosocial adjustment in male and female former child soldiers (ages 10–18; n = 156, 12% female). The study began in Sierra Leone in 2002 and was designed to examine both risk and protective factors in psychosocial adjustment. Over the 2-year period of follow-up, youth who had wounded or killed others during the war demonstrated increases in hostility. Youth who survived rape not only had higher levels of anxiety and hostility but also demonstrated greater confidence and prosocial attitudes at follow-up. Of the potential protective resources examined, improved community acceptance was associated with reduced depression at follow-up and improved confidence and prosocial attitudes regardless of levels of violence exposure. Retention in school was also associated with greater prosocial attitudes.