This week I want to get into a bit of the theory behind some of the refugee education programs I read about while gathering data for my literature review. The highlighted framework this week is Trauma-Informed Practice. I have read and heard about it from various sources, but the main source I will be using for this blog post is Bath’s 2008 article titled “The three pillars of trauma-informed care”. This article does not directly use Trauma-Informed Practice for refugee students, but it is certainly valuable for supporting them. Refugee students frequently have experienced complex trauma, which involves ongoing, extended exposure and leads to the breakdown of internal state regulation as well as making children focus primarily on safety instead of growing and learning. Bath intended his framework for domestic children with traumatic backgrounds, but since refugee children frequently have experience complex trauma, they more than fit the bill for needing trauma-informed care.
The three central components of Trauma-Informed Practice are the following:
- the development of safety
- the promotion of healing relationships
- the teaching of self-management and coping skills
Safety: Syrian refugee students are coming from a country filled with war and destroyed infrastructure. They then likely spent years in a refugee camp where safety was not always present. For those who came from refugee camps, which is the majority, their reality was bleak: “the right to grow in safety, the right to nutrition, water, the right to play and development as healthy allround individuals are all rights that are daily denied to the refugees in camps” (p. 1523). When a child has been exposed to treatment such as that during critical times in their development, they are geared towards survival and not the exploration and curiosity that is necessary to learn and grow. A classroom using Trauma-Informed Practice needs to combat that past by providing a consistent, safe, and reliable place for refugee students to learn how to grow and learn again without any threats. Once students realize they are in a safe place they will be able to start exploring and learning.
Relationships: As with not being in a safe place prior to Syrian refugee students’ resettlement in Canada, many of these students will also not have had the opportunity to develop strong, healthy relationships with many adults or peers. Within war children are often abused and mistreated directly, and also witness to adults mistreating other adults. While the parents and teachers of refugee children have their best intentions at heart, the adults in their lives have gone through the same trauma that the children have, and this affects their ability to react to the children fairly and lovingly all of the time. Refugee students will likely not have been able to trust people in their lives and may not come into a Canadian classroom immediately possessing positive feelings for the authority figures there. For example, Ayoub describes in his 2014 dissertation on Somali refugee students in Canada that when students first began schooling in Canada they were afraid to speak up in case they said something wrong, because in the past teachers would beat or ridicule them for wrong answers. In a Trauma-Informed classroom, adults work to create loving, consistent, and healthy relationships with the students. Boundaries and expectations are clearly defined so that students always know where they stand with adults. The adults in these classrooms need to help refugee students relearn how relationships should work, especially how people are expected to treat each other in Canada.
Self-management and coping skills: When children are exposed to extreme, prolonged stress, such as when they are victims are complex trauma, their emotional growth is stunted. Children in these cases are not able to regulate their emotions and stress-levels, leaving them hyper-vigilant and on edge. These students are not in an optimal place to learn because their brains and bodies are too attuned to worrying about survival; their emotions are not under their control. Trauma-Informed Practice should be used to equip students with the skills they need to manage their emotions and responses. Activities that focus on emotions and awareness are important. These activities should include culturally specific skills that Syrian refugee students need to master in Canada. The proper way to sort out disagreements, or how to cope with sad situations are two examples of beneficial skills that should be taught.
None of these components are overly fancy or out of the ordinary. In fact, these three pillars should be present in any classroom. I cannot recall where I heard it first, but the best practices for specific groups with unique needs tend to also just be good teaching practice in general. That is what occurs here. All children should be able to feel safe, develop healthy relationships with others, and learn how to control their emotions. It is just the case that refugee students need this even more than domestic students.
Bath, H. (2008). The three pillars of trauma-informed care. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 17(3), 17–21.
Ayoub, Mohamad Najib, “An Investigation of the Challenges Experienced by Somali Refugee Students in Canadian Elementary Schools” (2014). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 5120.
Jabbar, S. A., & Zaza, H. I. (2014). Impact of conflict in Syria on Syrian children at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Early Child Development and Care, 184(February), 1507–1530. http://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2014.916074