As a result of what they have been through, the internal landscape of some young refugees and asylum seekers may be overwhelmed by fearful recollections of traumatic experiences. These are often expressed in a variety of unconscious, non-verbal ways. These can evoke strong negative feelings in the people around them, particularly those charged with their educational and social care. Sometimes the trauma in young children can "incubate" until finding expression in the teenage years.
Parents and teachers have identified and reported significant changes in behaviour following war experiences, for example, some children find themselves becoming targets for school bullies as another regular manifestation of distress in children who have been exposed to violence. Poor concentration and memory impairment are common reactions, and children can suffer loss of developmental skills which threatens their educational achievements.
When left unattended, these difficulties can progress to serious and complex problems later in life. Many emotional and behavioural problems among refugee children are consistently associated with the effects of war and other atrocities. Some children act out their distress rather than talking about it. When referred, a child is seen either alone or with a parent in the first session, according to what is most appropriate for his/her age and development, and depending also on the reason for referral. Then parent/s or foster carer will also be offered space in assessment.
The Centre receives referrals for children and young people from schools, colleges, refugee community organisations, social services and health professionals. In order to meet the needs of children, we have provided two booklets, Information for Parents and Information for teachers. We believe that if children and families are helped early enough, much needless emotional suffering and difficulty in later life may be prevented.
Professionals working at the Centre address the needs of the individual child, working through past experiences, providing support to tackle current difficulties and rebuilding confidence and self-esteem which helps children to make a positive contribution to their new environment.
We primarily use a psychodynamic or psychoanalytic approach in our assessment and treatment. Working through their experiences in a safe and supportive environment offers children insight into their problems and provides them with a space for their own sense-making, helping them to verbalise feelings which they may have feared or suppressed through aggressive or harmful behaviour. Enabling children to understand their experiences and feelings can help to relieve their distress and enable them to make positive changes.
As one young person told us, "Sometimes it is easier to talk with a stranger, to tell your feelings openly without fearing. Therapy helps me to understand a situation, to find a way to pass the problem. It makes me feel not alone."