Supporting refugee families
Political events of recent years, and worsening natural disasters due to climate change, have seen the number of refugees around the world increase. The UN Refugee Agency says that more than half of the world’s refugees are children.
Most recently, the war in Ukraine has led to an estimated 13 million people leaving the country to escape the conflict, including 60% of its children.
Catherine Russell, executive director at UNICEF, says: “As the number of children fleeing their homes continues to climb, we must remember that every single one of them needs protection, education, safety and support.”
Welcoming refugee families into your setting, not only offers them a chance to start their early education but it also offers them much-needed stability and a sense of community after an incredibly difficult experience.
Asking questions without probing
Davina Weir, manager at William Gladstone Childcare in Newark-on-Trent, was contacted by her local authority’s refugee team a few years ago. They said that there would be some new families arriving in the area soon and asked if the setting would be interested in supporting them.
To start, the team welcomed the families for a tour of the setting. The process was much the same as it is for other families, only for this family they used the help of an interpreter to bridge the language gap between them.
“I gave them a really good explanation of the setting, what we do, how we learn through play," said Davina.
She also thought it was important to ask about their experiences and their journey to the UK. “I made sure I asked open-ended questions so they could answer as much or as little as they wanted to,” Davina explains. “I didn’t want to probe them.”
Taking an interest in their lives seemed to help them feel welcome to the setting and the local community.
"The feedback I had was that they felt so relaxed because we’d made them feel so welcome that they then felt comfortable leaving their children with us,” Davina says.
Since then, the team has been helping to signpost the support and services available to local families that perhaps had not been highlighted to the refugee families. This includes their nearest Children’s Centre, with which they have strong links.
Davina explains: “I just made sure that we were positive about the setting and them joining our community.”
The team also let the families know that if they were struggling with anything that they could ask them for help finding things or offering spares from the setting. They also directed them towards clothing banks, where they could find clothes for the children.
“It’s about making sure they’ve got all the information they need,” Davina says. “Although they’ve got support from other groups, I think the more people that direct them towards the same places, the easier it is for them.”
A particular moment Davina remembers is when a child particularly enjoyed the ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ nursery rhyme. She wrote it down for them so they could look at the words and take it home. The child’s father was then able to look the song up on his phone and play it for them at home as well. “It’s just small things really but I like to think that it made a difference,” she says.
Davina recommends that providers expecting refugee families get in touch with their local authorities for support, especially for help with any language barriers.
“I’d have really struggled without the interpreter,” she says. “If someone can speak their home language, it makes a huge difference. It was invaluable to us.”
She also recommends that providers try to keep things as normal as possible for these families, following their usual procedures and policies.
“The staff need to make sure that they treat them exactly as they would any other parent,” she explains.
Like many other families at early years settings, Davina says that the refugee families she has worked with have been incredibly grateful for the support they have received.
“It was just so rewarding,” she says.
Free resources to help you support refugee families
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