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Working with Children

Children from forced migration backgrounds presenting as refugees or asylum seekers, are especially vulnerable. We have to understand children don’t have an adult understanding of displacement, so entering a new country is a new world to them. On the other hand children are much more flexible to adapt and learn the language than adults.

The key part of working with children from forced migration backgrounds, is to have the universal language of children and young people to support them, and initially it is important to build trust as this makes them feel valued and safe.  

Children need time to understand the new environment and the language. To keep them engaged and connected you can use games and play and support their interactions. There are challenges and important factors to keep remembering during working with children that will be talked about in this topic.

Here are the key stages of working with children from forced migration background:

  1. ACEs in Children from forced migration background
  2. Types of trauma
  3. Language Barriers
  4. Cultural language
  5. Routine
  6. Trust and Reliability

Here we will talk about each subjects:

1. ACEs in Children from forced migration background

Understanding: It is important to understand children’s backgrounds prior to leaving. Children could have experienced war, trafficking or abuse, and have seen situations or incidents that are traumatic, for anyone, let alone a child. 

The most important thing to do in this situation is to make sure there are no questions regarding their background and to understand that this is their time to be a child. We are trying to promote trust and allow them to have a good time. 

Challenges: These children have a different experience than other children who have always experienced ‘normal’, healthy daily life. There might be situations where some of the kids are so quiet and don’t like to engage. There might also be situations that a child might be super active or get frustrated easily.

Recognition: So it’s important to recognise that and ask the main facilitator or the youth worker for tips on what they think is the best way to engage with them. It’s important not to decide or act based on emotions but always refer to the staff who can support you. 

2. Types of trauma:

During displacement, children from forced migration background often face many of the same types of traumatic events or hardships that they faced in their country of origin, as well as new experiences such as:

  • Living in refugee camps
  • Separation from family
  • Loss of community
  • Uncertainty about the future
  • Harassment by local authorities
  • Travelling long distances by foot
  • Detention

Refugee children may feel relieved when they are resettled in the UK. However, the difficulties they face do not end upon their arrival. Once resettled in the UK, refugees may face stressors in four major categories: Traumatic Stress, Acculturation Stress, Resettlement Stress, and Isolation.

Traumatic Stress

Occurs when a child experiences an intense event that threatens or causes harm to his or her emotional and physical wellbeing. Refugees can experience traumatic stress related to:

  • War and persecution
  • Displacement from their home
  • Flight and migration
  • Poverty
  • Family/community violence

Resettlement Stress

Stressors that refugee children and families experience as they try to make a new life for themselves. Examples include:

  • Financial stressors
  • Difficulties finding adequate housing
  • Difficulties finding employment
  • Loss of community support
  • Lack of access to resources
  • Transportation difficulties

Acculturation Stress

Stressors that refugee children and families experience as they try to navigate between their new culture and their culture of origin. Examples include:

  • Conflicts between children and parents over new and old cultural views
  • Conflicts with peers related to cultural misunderstandings
  • The necessity to translate for family members who are not fluent in English
  • Problems trying to fit in at school
  • Struggle to form an integrated identity including elements of their new culture and their culture of origin

Isolation Stress

Stressors that refugee children and families experience as minorities in a new country. Examples include:

  • Feelings of loneliness and loss of social support network
  • Discrimination
  • Experiences of harassment from peers, adults, or law enforcement
  • Experiences with others who do not trust the refugee child and family
  • Feelings of not fitting in with others
  • Loss of social status

3. Language Barriers

Understanding: One of the biggest challenges for children is the language barrier and this also involves the loss of their community that they communicate with. It means that not only are they facing a new language to learn, it could mean that their needs aren’t met as they can’t communicate what they are. 

Challenges: So we have to keep in mind children communicating in different ways and when they are frustrated by not being able to communicate, that this might show in the behaviour they choose. It means that when you find a child to be more angry or shouting that might be the signs of they want to communicate but they can’t.

Recognition: It’s important to know that if the child gets angry and aggressive or becomes frustrated do not act or try to solve it. You have to ask from the main staff to give you ways that you are able to communicate and support the child.

4. Cultural Language

Understanding: Cultural language are linked to some behaviours or use of language that are associated with the home country, and that might not be okay with the new society. For example, a young boy of 7-8 years old might express his masculinity and humiliate a young girl and that’s not the child’s fault. It is mainly the impact of growing up in the culture where men have the full power over women and this have been internalised by the child.

Also sometimes some of the cultures here are hard to understand for the children. WE have to remember that they need time to understand and adapt with the new environment.

Challenges:  Expressing these ideas in the group and making other participants upset, or even volunteers or the facilitator is one of the huge challenges that might be faced by the group. Disengagement might happen and some members might not come or go quiet in the group.

Recognition: In this stage it is so important to learn from the facilitator on how to keep the communication and use games and play to support the group and keep the joyful flow of the session going. Children can learn and realise the new environment and we have to remember it takes time.

5. Routine

When working with children, keeping the routine fixed is key to working with children. A precise plan of when they arrive, what happens at the beginning and towards the end of the session is so important. Children learn by routine and pattern, so understanding and keeping the routine is the key to engaging with the young people and moving the session forwards.

Routine in the session also helps to build the relationship with the group and everyone learns who they are and what role they have to make the sessions work.

6. Trust and Reliability 

Understanding: All the topics above are the key to building trust with young people from forced migration backgrounds. It is really important to know that the trust that children build in these groups is life changing, because we have to remember, these sessions and groups are helping them in their darkest times of their life, in a new country. So it’s important to also have faith in young people that they are valuable and that’s the reason the group is there to support them.

Challenges: Sometimes emotional attachments can happen and children might get so attached to the facilitator or the volunteers. It’s normal for the children to express those feelings, especially when they are in a vulnerable time of their life and they have been through forced migration, but the volunteers or the staff position is also important to be considered.

Recognition: In this stage if you feel concerned, it’s important to speak with the facilitator to give the advice of what steps need to be taken. Sometimes the level of attachments is hugging or staying with one volunteer which is not concerning. The facilitator or the youth worker is always there to give the best advice, so make sure you share that with either the facilitator, youth worker or any other staff such as the producer.

Make a list of the above points and review the key stages of working with children from forced migration background.

Think about which of them is the priority for you to learn? 
How might you develop your learning around this stage?
What might you need support with and where can you find that support?
Can you find the name of the games that the majority of children play that don’t require language or that help support the development of language?
How might your explain these games to children who don’t speak fluent English?
Can you find or even make games that will help children to learn about the UK? Can you find some interesting questions to ask them to get them to learn from the UK?