How to support refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people who have experienced trauma

Dr Sarah Davidson MBE, Head of Psychosocial & Mental Health at British Red Cross | 6 December 2021

Improving outcomes for refugees and asylum-seeking children and young people requires action from us all.

Information and resources to help you get started.

Refugees  With Luggage Walking In A Row

As a result of war, conflict and lack of resources, the past 10-15 years has seen a huge increase in the number of people making life-changing and often treacherous journeys to Europe, seeking asylum and refuge. Following the recent Afghan crisis, the UK government resettled 8,000 people with a commitment to resettle 25,000 Afghan nationals over the coming years [1], [2]. This is in addition to 125,000 ‘work in progress’ asylum cases, including 2,773 applications for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) from 2020 alone [3], [4]. Our existing support systems are struggling to respond.

Organisations, practitioners, and educators who support children and young people, in any capacity, must increase awareness of trauma in young refugee and asylum-seekers. We must work together to maximise relationships and resources to improve the support offered to each child or young person as they arrive and in the years that follow.

Below is a brief summary of some of the traumatic experiences refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people may experience and a curated list of resources that might help you as you provide support.

Traumatic experiences of refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people

Many asylum seekers and refugees will experience traumatic events and losses [5], [6]. This may include exposure to violence, often for prolonged periods of time, and separation from family members. They may have fled impending war, on short notice, and been exposed to many adversities [6]. A literature review found that children seeking asylum in Europe experience a range of mental health difficulties, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, self-harm, and behaviour problems [7].

After people arrive, difficulties with social isolation, loss of family, community and culture, and challenges accessing social and health services may continue [8]. These difficulties are often compounded by challenges with language, and a lack of understanding of the legal process and their rights as migrants. Asylum seekers and refugees may also experience attacks and hostility in their new country [6]. External life stressors such as family difficulties, housing instability and worries about the asylum process were found to cause distractions and reduce motivation in education for young asylum seekers in the UK [9].

Resources

The following resources aim to support children and young people seeking asylum or living as refugees in the UK who have experienced trauma.

Training

  • Children & War Foundation | Teaching Recovery Techniques training – This training is being used in numerous ways to support child and adolescent asylum seekers. The techniques are based on trauma-informed CBT and have been evidenced to reduce PTSD. The training is designed for non-mental health professionals, including teachers, and includes a ‘train-the-trainer’ module.

References

  1. Schraer, R., Barrett, N. (2021, September 20). Afghanistan: How many asylum seekers has the UK taken in? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58245684
  2. Home office. (2021). Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/afghan-citizens-resettlement-scheme
  3. Sturge, G. (2021). Asylum statistics (SN01403). House of commons library. https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN01403/SN01403.pdf
  4. Home office. (2021). Asylum and resettlement datasets. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/asylum-and-resettlement-datasets
  5. Bronstein, I., Montgomery, P., & Dobrowolski, S. (2012). PTSD in asylum-seeking male adolescents from Afghanistan. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 25(5), 551–557. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.21740
  6. Hodes, M., & Vostanis, P. (2019). Practitioner Review: Mental health problems of refugee children and adolescents and their management. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 60(7), 716–731. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13002
  7. Flood, C., & Coyne, I. (2019). A literature review of the psychological status of asylum-seeking children: implications for nursing practice. British Journal of Nursing, 28(7), 461-466. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjon.2019.28.7.461
  8. Goosen, S., Stronks, K., & Kunst, A. E. (2014). Frequent relocations between asylum-seeker centres are associated with mental distress in asylum-seeking children: a longitudinal medical record study. International Journal of Epidemiology, 43(1), 94–104. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyt233
  9. Fuller, M., & Hayes, B. (2020). What are the experiences of education for unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors in the UK?. Child: Care, Health and Development, 46(4), 414–421. https://doi.org/10.1111/cch.12764

*updated 9 December 2021

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