Tonight on PoliticKING: News Update Isis Children Soldiers

Harvard researcher, Theresa Betancourt, speaks with Larry King in regard to her 13 years of study on children soldiers around the world. Abdi Warsame, an American politician and Minneapolis City Council member joins the discussion on fighting the Islamic State.Then: Ger Duany, actor, model, and former child soldier, speaks about the issues facing this new crop of young people.

Dr. Betancourt is Director of the Research Program on Children and Global Adversity at the Harvard School of Public Health and an Affiliated Faculty member of the Harvard Center on the Developing Child.

Theresa S. Betancourt, Sc.D., M.A. is Director of the Research Program on Children and Global Adversity(RPCGA) and Associate Professor of Child Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Her central research interests include:

  • Developmental and psychosocial consequences of concentrated adversity on children and families;
  • Resilience and protective processes in child development;
  • Child health and human rights; and
  • Applied cross-cultural mental health research.

Dr. Betancourt has extensive experience in conducting research among children and families in low-resource settings, particularly in the context of humanitarian emergencies. She has been involved in the adaptation and testing of several mental health interventions for children and families facing adversity due to violence and chronic illness, including as PI of an NIMH-funded project to develop and evaluate a parenting/Family Strengthening Intervention (FSI) for HIV-affected families in Rwanda. She has recently worked with partners to adapt this intervention to focus on families with young children (<3 years) living in extreme poverty and options for delivering such family home visiting interventions via Rwanda’s Social Protection system.

Dr. Betancourt is currently PI of an ongoing project to integrate an evidence-based behavioral intervention for war-affected youth (the Youth Readiness Intervention) into education and employment programs in Sierra Leone. She is also PI of an NIMHD-funded project using community-based participatory research methods to study conceptualizations of mental health problems as well as attitudes about healing and help-seeking to design family-based preventive interventions for Somali Bantu and Bhutanese refugees in the Boston metropolitan area.One of Dr. Betancourt’s longest standing projects (begun in 2002) is a prospective longitudinal/intergenerational study of war-affected youth in Sierra Leone. A current NICHD R01 research grant is supporting a fourth wave of data collection in the cohort to investigate the intergenerational effects of war in Sierra Leone by examining health and development of the young children of the original cohort as well as intimate partner relationships. This research comprises one of the few intergenerational studies of war ever conducted in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Betancourt has written extensively on mental health, child development, family functioning and resilience in children facing adversity including recent articles in Child Development, Lancet Global Health, The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, JAMA Psychiatry, Social Science and Medicine, and PLoS One.

Dr. Betancourt graduated summa cum laude in psychology from Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon and holds a Master in Art Therapy from the University of Louisville. She completed her doctoral work in Maternal and Child Health with concentrations in Psychiatric Epidemiology and Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health.


Abdi Warsame is an American politician and member of the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2013, he was elected to the Minneapolis City Council, becoming the first Somali American to be elected the position.

Recently, Politico did a story on Warsame.  Here is an excerpt from that piece, find the full article link below:

Terrorist recruitment was unfortunately not a new problem for the Twin Cities’ Somali community, which had struggled since 2008 as Somali-American teens—many of whom had never visited East Africa—left to join the Al Qaeda affiliate known as al-Shabaab, fighting in their ancestral homeland. ISIL, though, represented a new, more insidious threat—there were no nationalist or ethnic ties, no obvious appeal to the young men and women leaving Minnesota for a vicious war in the Mideast. Yet authorities believe more than 20 Minnesotans have left for Syria and Iraq in the past two years, and the fight against ISIL has put Warsame’s community at the forefront of a national effort to combat radicalization efforts. Warsame and the Minneapolis Public Schools system were front and center at a White House summit on countering violent extremism earlier this year, where they presented an innovative school-parent intervention program meant to head off the appeal of online terrorist recruiters.

Now, midway through his first term as a city council member, Warsame finds himself balancing foreign policy with local problems, like fixing potholes on Cedar and Riverside avenues or improving taxicab ordinances in the wake of a new legalizing the app-based companies, like Lyft and UberX. In many ways, Warsame understands the alienation and isolation that can breed radicalization. As he has said, “I have children growing up in the city who are no different [from] those young individuals that left.” But more than that, he himself has lived this bifurcated identity. He with his family, after all, has over the past two decades made the opposite journey—fleeing political persecution in Somalia as a child and growing up on social welfare in London before landing in the Twin Cities.

The Twin Cities were for Warsame and tens of thousands of Somalis like his family meant to be a fresh start—and, in many ways, they have been—but unfortunately, the refuge community has also found that they haven’t been able to leave the wars and unrest behind.

Read full article at:


Ger Duany was born in Akobo, South Sudan in 1978. He was forcefully recruited as a child soldier during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Duany successfully fled to Ethiopia at age 14, then to Kenya, and finally sought refuge in the United States when he was sixteen, becoming one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

Continue the Discussion