Ethical Challenges in the Provision of Mental Health Services for Children and Families During Disasters

  • Matthew Hunt
  • Nicole E. Pal
  • Lisa Schwartz
  • Dónal O’Mathúna
Child and Family Disaster Psychiatry (B Pfefferbaum, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Child and Family Disaster Psychiatry


Purpose of the Review

As mental health professionals assist individuals and communities affected by disaster, they are likely to encounter ethical issues. We conducted a review of academic and grey literature to identify ethical issues associated with the provision of mental health care during disasters, with particular attention to children and families.

Recent Findings

We identified nine categories of ethical challenge: ensuring competent care; protecting confidentiality and privacy; obtaining informed consent and respecting autonomy; providing culturally sensitive care; avoiding harm; allocating limited resources; maintaining neutrality and avoiding bias; addressing issues of liability and employer responsibilities; and conducting research ethically.


The organization and provision of mental health services during disasters presents ethical challenges for care providers—as well as for communities, coordinators, and policymakers. Mental health professionals need to navigate this ethical terrain in order to provide needed care to individuals and communities affected by crisis.


Children Disasters Ethics Health services Humanitarian crises Mental health 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Matthew Hunt, Lisa Schwartz, and Dónal O’Mathúna declare no conflict of interest.

Matthew Hunt is supported by a salary award from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec- Santé. Nicole E. Pal worked as a research assistant on this project supported by a grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research.Lisa Schwartz is supported by the Arnold L Johnson Chair in Health Care Ethics.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major Importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew Hunt
    • 1
    • 2
  • Nicole E. Pal
    • 1
  • Lisa Schwartz
    • 3
  • Dónal O’Mathúna
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Physical and Occupational TherapyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in RehabilitationMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence & Impact, Centre for Health Economics and Policy AnalysisMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  4. 4.School of Nursing & Human SciencesDublin City UniversityDublinIreland
  5. 5.College of NursingThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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