Refugee children who have fled from Syria experience considerable challenges upon arrival in Ireland and need greater support from schools youth services and communities. That is according to a report published by the Children’s Rights Alliance.
The report, ‘Safe Haven: A Study on the Needs of Refugee Children Arriving in Ireland through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme’ (IRPP) is based on consultations with 77 people including parents, children, service providers and teachers. Its findings include:
- Trauma: Refugee children arriving in Ireland from Syria and other countries have experienced disruption and loss before arriving in Ireland and have often endured difficult journeys and long periods in limbo. The process of settling into life in Ireland also poses considerable challenges for them. Parents and stakeholders reported issues for some children such as bedwetting, nightmares or having difficulties sleeping. Interviews with education and health professionals suggest that the effects of trauma among refugee children can manifest in different ways from overt behavioural issues to withdrawal or disengagement. Professionals were concerned that some children are struggling emotionally. Educational and other professionals working with refugee children and parents need to receive training on trauma-awareness, yet this is not routinely available.
- Mental Health: Refugee children experience difficulties accessing appropriate mental health supports, like many others in Ireland. Many refugee parents experience debilitating mental health problems but do not always get the help they need.
- Education: Ireland’s education response to child refugees is one of the most significant aspects of the IRPP. Some children had not been to school before or their education had been disrupted. Extra supports to learn and integrate are provided and work well in some places but are not always available in others. Schools are trying their best despite not always having the resources they need. One teacher reported sourcing materials for refugee children herself because school funds were simply not enough. Schools need far greater capacity to meet the learning, language and socio-emotional needs of young refugees and to support them in their transition to school and when they move schools.
- Language: This is a significant barrier for children at school, accessing healthcare and forming friendships. It is a major barrier for parents in obtaining information, communicating with schools and helping with homework. Language supports are provided but are not always enough.
- Health: Access to health services is an issue for some children because of waiting lists and other factors. Numerous stakeholders report that children have considerable oral health needs but that there are challenges in accessing appropriate services
- Cultural awareness: In places, the report points to a lack of cultural understanding and paternalistic attitudes by some staff working in Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROCs) where families are residing, sometimes amounting to over-involvement in family life. This needs to be addressed.
- Integration: Once refugee children arrive, they are keen to get settled and to make friends. They want to belong and lead a life just like any other child or young person, but face many challenges in doing so. Opportunities for refugee children to connect with local young people are generally valued and enjoyed but are often not available. Despite the challenges they face, refugee children and their families have high aspirations to do well.
Commenting on the report, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “Ireland has rightly promised to provide support for people fleeing war and persecution through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. Our history of mass emigration means that we know in our hearts what it is like to arrive in a new country not knowing what the future holds.
“Important steps have been taken to respond to the refugee crisis and many communities have shown remarkable generosity. However, Ireland needs to provide a safe haven to a bigger group of refugee children. Many children are waiting in Greece and the Middle East in unsafe conditions and exposed to exploitation and abuse.”
Dr. Karen Smith, one of the study’s co-authors stated: “What shone through from our study was the eagerness of young refugees and their parents to participate in Irish society and their aspirations for a 'bright future' in Ireland. The findings from service providers demonstrate goodwill and willingness to go above and beyond to offer welcome and support, but also point to the pressing need for a more systematic and evidence-based approach to implementation of resettlement programmes, greater training and support for service providers, as well as ongoing monitoring and evaluation.”
Dr. Muireann Ní Raghallaigh stated: “A key message from the young people who participated in the study related to the importance of not treating refugees as a homogenous group. Instead, policy makers and service providers need to be aware of differences in backgrounds and experiences and ensure that service provision is needs-focused, child-centred and individualised.”
The Children’s Rights Alliance has noted recommendations in the following key areas:
- Develop a framework and strategy for the implementation of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme.
- Develop and implement a monitoring and evaluation tool for resettlement support programmes.
- Develop a toolkit and training for community resettlement support staff.
- Review the effectiveness of the information provided to refugee parents and children.
- Provide all stakeholders working with refugee children with access to appropriate training courses on the impact of war, displacement and trauma on children; the challenges of resettlement; and intercultural and anti-racism awareness.
- Children and young people should be facilitated to engage in recreational activities with their peers in the local community.
- Staff in reception centres should receive appropriate cultural awareness and anti-racism training.
- Refugee children should have access to dental assessments upon arrival by a qualified dentist.
- The HSE should develop a programme and implementation plan to develop cultural competence in primary care and specialist mental health services that includes guidance and a training programme for staff on appropriate interventions and support for refugee children and families.
- Examine possible models for provision of formalised support to refugee students to support them in transitions within the educational system.
- Consult with refugee children and adults following their resettlement in the local community on how the resources allocated to the resettlement programme can best be utilised to meet their needs.
The report ‘Safe Haven: A Study on the Needs of Refugee Children Arriving in Ireland through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme’ was commissioned by the Children's Rights Alliance and carried out by Dr. Muireann Ní Raghallaigh and Dr. Karen Smith from the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, UCD. The researchers gathered data using face-to-face focus group consultations with young resettled Syrian refugees. The researchers also interviewed children and young people, parents, service providers, professionals and officials. In total 77 people participated in the research.