The Educational and Mental Health Needs of Syrian Refugee Children

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Several European nations have developed similar programs that approach individuals’ mental health


needs and delivery of services in the context of the broader social environment. A study of children in


ioral factors.119 The study found that both immediate social settings (such as family and friends) and more


Denmark found that successful treatment focused on social factors in addition to intrapsychic and behav-


outcomes of refugee children; those who experienced more conflict in these settings were at greater risk


institutional or general settings (such as school, work, and community) clearly affected the mental health


for mental health symptoms. A very important finding was that ongoing stressors—before or after reset-


tlement—were more predictive of PTSD developing and persisting than a single traumatic event, regard-


less of the intensity of the traumatic event. Another meta-analysis study of refugees resettled in wealthy


nations (including the United States and a variety of European nations) found positive social supports like


contextual factors like discrimination or daily stressors related to refugee status.120


family support and friendships promoted resilience, but could be undermined by the negative effects of


A review of the literature on refugee children in the United States, which predates the Syrian crisis, finds


reported being bullied and teased for having an Arab-sounding name or expressing their religious beliefs,


Muslim children are at risk of anti-Islamic discrimination in school settings. Muslim refugee children


which in turn affected their educational success and put them at increased risk for dropping out of


for instance by wearing a hijab. Exposure to discrimination affected the children emotionally and socially,


school.121 Developing strong social supports is clearly an essential component of refugee children’s mental


teachers and parents in how children display trauma, and increasing resources to help adults cope with a


health. Specific recommendations include working to reduce discrimination in the community, educating


traumatized child’s behavior.


Perhaps the most cogent advice offered to those attempting to address the mental health, educational,


and social needs of refugee children comes from a small but growing organization called Syria Bright


Future. Two Syrian refugee professionals with firsthand experience of imprisonment, persecution, and


displacement established this organization to serve traumatized and displaced Syrian refugees in Jordan.


side community volunteers, and provides a variety of services beyond traditional clinical work, including


Their model employs mental health professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers) along-


working with traditional spiritual healers in order to accommodate Syrian cultural norms.122


Syria Bright Future has a number of programs specifically for children. The organization has programs

children who have experienced war. The group also offers educational support programs to help children


to teach children with PTSD how to cope with their symptoms, using techniques specially developed for


vides tutoring in basic skills to children who are behind in school. Parents of children with special needs


between the ages of 7 and 15 develop school-related skills through games and creative activities, and pro-


“Social Visits Project,” teams of professionals and volunteers, usually three people at a time, visit refugee


are given ongoing support and advice on how to give their children the help they need. In Bright Future’s


families and spend two hours or so interviewing each member of the family and assessing not just their


activities for children with the understanding that their psychological needs are often met more effec-


mental health needs but also physical health, social health, and educational issues. Project teams design


logical services. Finally, the teams provide counseling and support to caregivers, including parents, with


tively through social support, fun activities, and normal environments than through traditional psycho-

Future offers refugee children and their families highly individualized, multifaceted, and culturally sensi-


the aim of helping the entire family function better in the face of extreme hardship. Thus, Syria Bright


are no empirical data on outcomes at this time, the program nevertheless serves as an effective model for


tive interventions to promote mental health, relational health, and educational success.123 Though there




Understanding how Syria Bright Future integrates various services for children and families could prove


useful to providers working with resettled Syrian refugees in the United States and other countries of


permanent resettlement. Furthermore, the organization offers psychological support informed by per-


sonal experiences of the psychological effects of trauma and insights into psychological healing. As Syrian


professionals when possible, and to consult with (or directly involve) these professionals when designing


refugees are resettled in the United States and Europe, it may be beneficial to connect them with Syrian


tional Syrian practices alongside the Western model of individual counseling. Incorporating traditional

and providing treatment. With help from the Syrian community, service providers can incorporate tradi-

Syrian practices may improve both service utilization and mental health outcomes among the population.



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