Children seeking asylum: trauma and adversityIn the images of asylum seekers that are in the media at the moment, we are seeing many faces of adolescents, children and babies. It is a reminder that we need to be thinking more about what these children are experiencing. Some of them are travelling with their parents, some with other family members and some are alone. All of them have been on a journey that most of us can not begin to imagine.
Children who are refugees or asylum seekers face huge adversities and traumatic experiences. Recently, the Network released this resource that discusses the refugee experience and how it impacts on children. Some of the adversities that are outlined in the resource include the impact of parental stress on children, children's exposure to violence and the potential exploitation of vulnerable children.
What adversities are these children facing?
Children generally tend to follow a healthy pattern of development when they are in a safe, protective environment with adults who nurture them. Children need parents to respond appropriately and consistently to them, something that can be particularly difficult to do when they are under constant stress, living in uncertainty and finding it difficult to cope themselves. The nature of the refugee experience is one that places extreme stress on children and their families. The journey is usually arduous and may involve the loss or death of others making the same journey. The process for asylum seekers leads to further stress of prolonged detention and the uncertainty of the length of that detention and what the outcome will be at the end of this time. All of these contributing to the poor mental health of the parents and in turn the mental health of the child.
Many children who are refugees or seeking asylum will also be exposed to violence. Often, their parents will have limited opportunities to protect their children from this violence. We already know from the research that exposure to violence can be particularly damaging to children. When this exposure is extreme or repeated, these traumatic experiences are likely to leave an indelible impression on the child.
Children who are alone, or without a parent, become particularly vulnerable to exploitation at all stages of the refugee journey and whilst seeking asylum. They may experience physical or sexual abuse or witness violence or other inappropriate acts of others that their parents would otherwise shield them from.
Long term impact of trauma
We know that many children can be resilient in the face of adversity, but we also know that the greater the number of adversities that a child faces, the more chance there is that there will be a detrimental impact on their outcomes. Trauma impacts on the physical and mental health of children, as well as their development, social functioning and their academic achievement. We know that the impact of trauma can last for a lifetime.
It is everyone's role to make sure that children are protected from the harmful impact of trauma and adversity. We need to be thinking more about what can be done to protect this particularly vulnerable group of children.