Back to contents4. Student Welfare and wellbeing (word version for printing)
Many students and their families will have on-going welfare needs associated with their refugee experience and resettlement in Australia. All refugee background students will have experienced some degree of loss of home, place and culture, and for some a significant degree of loss through death or separation from family and friends.
Students’ capacity to learn may be affected by the trauma they have undergone as well as by the challenges and difficulties associated with resettlement. They will need ongoing monitoring and support within the school’s existing welfare structures, consistent with approaches outlined in The Framework for Student Support Services .
Continuity of care is important. For those students who have attended an English language school or centre (ELS/C), the starting point for establishing welfare needs is the Transition Officer and the exit report from the ELS/C. The schools’ Student Welfare Coordinator (SWC) can contact the SWC the ELS/C to discuss the students’ individual circumstances and obtain further information on support they are already receiving. It is important to establish which service providers are currently supporting the students and their families.

Foundation House
The Foundation House School Support Program includes; professional learning programs for teachers, consultation and partnerships with schools and agencies, counselling and advocacy for students and families, group work and resource materials for schools.

The Foundation House professional development program Schools in For Refugees is highly recommended. The information below includes adapted content from the Schools in For Refugees publication which can be downloaded free of charge.

Student wellbeing concerns
It is recommended to have a team approach to student wellbeing, where awareness of the impact of trauma and the responsibility for developing a supportive school environment is shared.

1. Effects of trauma
Foundation House recognises that the refugee experience has a profound impact on children, young people, individuals and families, and that wellbeing and educational outcomes are intrinsically linked. Trauma can detrimentally affect many of the complex cognitive functions required for learning. (Kaplan, 2009, Victorian Foundation For Survivors of Torture and Trauma) Teachers will need to develop an awareness of refugee experiences and an understanding of the impact of trauma on learning, behavior and wellbeing as well as a knowledge of appropriate teaching strategies.

Most refugee children and young people will have been subjected to or have witnessed horrifying and traumatic events. These include:
  • war, bombing or shelling
  • destruction of homes and schools
  • violent death or injury of family or friends
  • separation from family members
  • sudden disappearances of family members or friends
  • time spent in a refugee camp
  • physical injury and limited medical attention
  • deprivation of food, safe water and other resources essential for survival
  • fear of discovery or arrest
  • arrest, detention or torture
  • forced conscription into armies or militias
  • rape or sexual assault
  • lack of opportunities for play.
All refugee background students will have experienced some degree of loss of home, place and culture, and for some, the profound losses of parents, siblings, friends and significant others through death or separation.

Strategies to support recovery from trauma

Below is a table from Schools In for Refugees (VFST 2011) that summarises the components of the trauma reaction and identifies four broad goals to support recovery. The table also lists strategies for teachers that support both recovery and learning.
Components of the trauma reaction
Goals to support
recovery from trauma
School strategies to meet recovery goals
Feelings of
Loss of control
Restore safety
Enhance control
Reduce fear and anxiety
Structured, predictable environments where changes are explained,
Teaching classroom and school routines,
Scaffolded teaching of topics and concepts in all subject areas,
Quiet spaces and opportunities to relax and play quiet games, prayer rooms,
Opportunities for play, art and expression of feelings,
Teaching how to seek assistance.
Appropriate referral protocols
Changed relationships,
Restore attachment and connections to others
Offer emotional support and care
Structured pair and group activities to share experiences and build connections,
Transition programs for a range of transitions experiences,
Buddy systems,
Teaching social skills,
Teaching emotional literacy,
Welcoming and engaging families and community.
Appropriate referral protocols
Shattering of previously held assumptions:
Loss of trust
Meaning, identity & future
Restore meaning and purpose to life
Recognition of prior learning and learning needs,
Programs to meet student needs and address gaps,
Opportunities to experience success with recognition of learning and successes,
Appropriate and individually managed pathway support including links to other services,
Learning to take risks and build trust.
Appropriate referral protocols
Restore dignity and value
Reduce excessive shame and guilt
Celebration of diversity,
Professional Development for staff to promote an understanding of refugee experiences and understanding how to use ESL strategies,
Modelling respect with correct pronunciation of names,
Use of interpreters and translations,
Dealing with discipline one on one and with an advocate,
Consistency between teachers.
Appropriate referral protocols
Table: School strategies to support recovery from trauma from Schools in for Refugees (VFST 2011)

See also
Calmer Classrooms: A Guide to working with traumatised children Office of Childhood Safety Commissioner, Victoria, 2009

2. Financial hardship
Some families will have difficulties meeting the costs of settlement and those on humanitarian visas may be repaying fares to community organisations or to extended family members. Some will be sending money to assist relatives. Where appropriate, provide assistance with subject levies, costs of camps and excursions, school uniform and travel expenses as well as access to supports such as State Schools Relief and book and computer lending schemes. It can be helpful for schools and teachers to become familiar with local community organizations who can work in partnership with schools and may be able to provide support to schools and students by organizing activities such as breakfast programs, lunchtime activities, information sessions for parents, youth leadership initiatives and other programs to assist students and the school community.

3. Housing and homelessness
Students’ housing situations may not be stable due to a lack of affordable housing, family dislocation and breakdown both pre and post arrival. With a large number of students being unaccompanied minors and students living in households in which older siblings are responsible for younger family members, it is not uncommon for family breakdowns to occur.

4. Physical health issues
  • Refugee background students may have ongoing health concerns associated with years of poor nutrition and medical care and the experience of trauma. Some students will experience sleep difficulties. Dental problems are common. Access to nutritious food may be an issue.
  • If students have attended an ELS/C, health assessments such as eyesight and hearing may have been made but follow up may be needed. For direct enrolment refugees, provide further health checks as necessary.
  • An awareness of the different dimensions of health and of healthy behaviours, including diet should be part of the learning program. Refer students to the schools’ breakfast program if available.
  • The school nurse as well as refugee nurses located in community health services, are invaluable sources of support.
  • Students will initially be unfamiliar with mainstream school routines in Australian schools and may not be sure of what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour in different contexts. All students will benefit from predictable structures and routines, from explicit values learning and explicit teaching of appropriate behaviours as well as familiarisation with school discipline policies. Students will need repeated opportunities and support to learn, and practice these new skills in these new environments.
  • See **Course content** in the Refugee Bridging Programs support material, section 3.2
  • Recognising the impact of trauma on student learning and wellbeing, teachers will need to develop a range of strategies to support students who are experiencing behavioural issues. Resource 3 (School’s In for Refugees VFST 2011, see link above) outlines behaviours teachers may notice at school and describes specific classroom strategies to support these students and teachers.
  • If students are moving between programs, or in the case of cluster programs, between schools or campuses, they will need support to manage these transitions and a strong pastoral care system to ensure that they feel secure and that they develop skills required.

5. BehaviourRefugee Bridging Programs support material, section 7.0

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6. Absenteeism and punctuality
  • Students may have a high level of absences because of family circumstances. Often they have to act as an interpreter or to look after younger members of the family.
  • Student punctuality and attendance can be an issue for some students.
  • Consistent with student welfare and wellbeing and student engagement policies, schools will already have a staged response in place to support individual students at risk. For many refugee background students, it will be sufficient to employ strategies that support recovery from trauma such as those outlined in Schools in for refugees (see also Schools strategies to support recovery from trauma above). However some students may continue to display concerning behaviours as a result of refugee related trauma and may require further assistance.
  • Behaviours (if persistent) that may require specialised assistance are outlined in Schools in for refugees
  • As already noted, Foundation House: is the most appropriate organisation to contact if the school has concerns. Individual students and families may already have had contact with Foundation House.

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Support for individual students

Interventions for students at risk

A process for referral

When individual students are at risk, document a referral protocol that outlines the processes to be followed. This will include:
  • a process for informing teachers of refugee characteristics, appropriate classroom strategies and behaviours of concern
  • a process for identifying individual students at risk
  • internal referral processes to be followed by classroom teacher, bridging program coordinator and student wellbeing coordinator
  • how and by whom the student will be approached in relation to referral to an outside agency
  • communication processes with family if relevant
  • communication protocols with outside agency
  • the development of a plan of support which includes strategies and delineates responsibilities
Consult Schools in for Refugees for further advice on referral protocols as well as discussing sensitive issues with refugee students and facilitating referral and counseling.
Implications for the classroom teacher
Be informed of the refugee experience
  • Understand implications of the refugee experience on learning and wellbeing
  • Implement strategies to support recovery
  • Know when to seek support and know when to refer
Develop positive and supportive relationships with your studetsn
  • Find out about the interests and backgrounds of your students
  • Ensure students are engaged, contribute and are included in a meaningful way
  • Talk to students about their progress, achievements and issues of concern
  • Be an advocate for your students and their needs
Promote student wellbeing
  • Provide a safe, predictable, inclusive, non threatening environment.
  • Teach and facilitate positive behaviours, health literacy and social skills
  • Value and celebrate diversity
  • Promote relationships and connections to others through sharing of stories, games and structured group activities
  • Use appropriate referral protocols and interventions when necessary
Ensure ongoing professional development and wellbeing (related to working with refugee background students) is supported through school policies and protocols

Published by: Student Learning DivisionDepartment of Education and Early Childhood DevelopmentCarlton 2012
© State of Victoria (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development) 2012
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