Children in Distress
Children in Distress
While most refugee children quickly settle into the school routine, and in the continuation of their learning, some show signs of significant or continued distress. There may also be noticeable delays in their rate of learning, compared to other asylum seeking children on roll.
If this is the case, it is important to investigate quickly and thoroughly for the sake of all concerned. While the child may be suffering from the effects of earlier trauma, it is important not to jump to any hasty conclusions.
The school should first eliminate the possibility of more mundane factors, such as:
- is the classroom environment supportive and safe?
- is the child being bullied? (in research by Save the Children, almost a third of asylum seeking children reported that they had experienced bullying at school )
- is the child unable to access the curriculum due to lack of previous experience, Special Educational Needs, medical problems?
- is the child tired? (many children are not able to get adequate sleep due to poor housing conditions)
- is the child hungry? (poverty, lack of access to cooking facilities, lack of familiarity with local food may all play a part)
If these have been eliminated, further investigations will be necessary. The first place to start is to talk to the child and the parents/carers. At meetings such as this it is imperative that a professional interpreter, trusted by the parents, is used. (Interpreters form the same cultural background may be able to offer helpful insights themselves if there is a problem with different expectations for example.) Parents may be able to access help and support from within their own community and traditions.
If necessary the school will initially refer to its existing procedures for the support of children who are emotionally troubled and/or not able to access the curriculum fully, for example the SEN register, extra English classes, mentoring, behaviour support programmes/workshops, on-site counsellingetc.
Where this does not work, or the symptoms appear too severe, there are specialist organisationswhich are experienced in supporting refugees, and the school should talk to the parents about them. It is worth remembering that many cultures do not have the tradition of counselling or therapeutic support, and may be hostile to or frightened of the idea. If such support is considered to be potentially helpful, it may need a very careful introduction and explanation.
A Definition of Trauma
'A traumatic event is one where even briefly the child becomes shocked and loses contact with familiar facilities such as being able to think, to concentrate, to sleep without intrusive thought or to control bladder and bowels. A traumatic event is one where the effects of the event repeat themselves at irregular intervals a long time after the event.'
Indicators of Trauma
- memories of the event flash back into the mind like a film and produce emotions of panic similar to the original experience
- reminders of past events such as men in uniforms, shouting or loud noises, or anything that reminds a person of previous frightening experiences will upset the person; consequently they will try to avoid such reminders
- inability to sleep and enduring nightmares
- suffering exhaustion, aches and pains
- lacking concentration
- feeling different from others
What can the school do?
Whatever therapeutic support a child may be receiving, schools can do a lot to help.
STOP is a useful model to use as a framework:
Safety - routine and predictability
Time and Talking - to re-establish trusting relationships with adults
Opportunities for play and self-expression
Parents - partnership with parents to support their children.
Cold Comfort: Young separated refugees in England, Save the Children 2001
e.g. A Place to Be
The Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture
The Emotional Needs of Young Children and Families. Using Psychology in the Community, Sheila Melak (1995) Routledge
Tina Hyder, Save the Children (1997)