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Issues Faced by Children and Young People Who Have a Refugee/Asylum-Seeking Background

It has been well-documented, by a number of organisations, that the majority of the children and young people who have arrived in the UK as a refugee or asylum seeker will have experienced significant loss and trauma as a result of one or more of these things:

  • having to leave their home, country, friends, life.
  • fleeing due to war and persecution, having witnessed people being killed, attacked or tortured - members of their own families, or they themselves, may have suffered torture.
  • undergoing a traumatic journey from their homeland, via refugee camps, dangerous modes of transport and exploitation by people traffickers; they may have shared space with adults and witnessed harmful behaviours or suicides.

Unaccompanied young people are especially likely to have been exposed to traumatising experiences.

Behaviours and attitudes that might be displayed and impact on learning:

  • Children and young people may learn new languages more slowly because they have been traumatised.
  • Social and emotional skills may be delayed because of gaps in education or because of trauma.
  • They may be in a ‘high alert’ state and therefore struggle to concentrate, pay attention and sit still.
  • If they have experienced the loss of a loved one (death/prison) they may struggle to trust a teacher as they think they will leave or forget about them.
  • They may also find it challenging to wait their turn and constantly seek the teacher’s attention.
  • If a child or young person has experienced violence they may not seek help as they are afraid of the reaction they will get.
  • Some young people may appear older than their age because of the experiences they have had – they may have had to take a lot of responsibility – and so are not be interested in what is being taught.
  • Some may be so traumatised that they shut off everything that happened.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that all children and young people who are refugees/asylum seekers are suffering from trauma. They may have learned to cope and developed their resilience when exposed to trauma.

Some children and young people may be additionally vulnerable due to the experiences they have on arrival in the UK, and on an ongoing basis.

An article from NALDIC (National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum) discusses whether the focus on trauma, in western countries, is sufficient when working with refugee children:

‘Children and families are affected by events from the past, but also by current stressors and also positive factors in their lives. Experiences such as loss, bereavement and separation, along with problems related to asylum, poverty, housing and obstacles to integration, are equally important.’

Education is crucial in helping children and young people to develop a sense of normality and in helping to develop social connections that will help to rebuild their world.


Useful Worksheets:

"I need you to..." Stepping into the shoes of a young person who has experienced trauma, loss & change:

Compensate for my Brain State - Dr Bruce Perry’s Arousal Continuum:

6 Steps of Trauma-Sensitive Connection:

Supporting the Return to School with Hobfoll’s Five Principles of Recovery:

The Learning Triangle: A Model of Attachment & Learning by Heather Geddes:

“What if?” Using a trauma-informed lens to reframe behaviour:

The Trauma-informed Classroom - Providing a Safe Base:

Treating Trauma with Hope and Optimism:

Applying the 4 Rs of Trauma-Informed approaches in the return to school:


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