To mark World Refugee Day we spoke to Syeda, a School-Home Support practitioner based in one of one of our partner schools, about challenges the refugee families she works with are facing, and the support she is able to provide to ensure children can continue to access their education.
Most of the refugee families Syeda supports with attendance are struggling financially. Most of them rely on just £8 per person per week to get by.
School is so important to refugee families. For parents who want their children to make the most of their education, for children a chance to learn and have fun with others their age. But with family budgets so tight buses to school are out of the question.
For the refugee families that you support, what are the main challenges they are currently facing?
All of the refugee families I support are struggling financially. Unfortunately most of my families rely on £8, or sometimes less, per person every week, which means they have to use that amount sparingly for any travel or school resources they may need. Or, if a child is unwell, and the hotel they are staying in does not provide medication like calpol then they have to use up their weekly allowance to help make their little ones feel better. This then doesn’t leave much for getting to school that week.
What are the impacts of these challenges on their school attendance?
Most of my families have recently been moved outside of the borough, which means I have a few families, including a child who is in his last few weeks of year 6, who have to travel over an hour each day to get to school. Sometimes they run out of their allowance or their child and even parents become unwell from the constant travel, and it becomes harder to attend everyday. Their local schools are oversubscribed, and so if they stop attending our school these children will be missing out on their education completely.
What support are you able to offer to these families?
I am able to contact the local authority to help with grocery vouchers, however, as the families are not residents of the borough and they do not have recourse to public funds, the financial support they have access to is extremely limited. I offer food packs on a weekly basis and we offer these families breakfast club and after school tea time club to ensure the children are well fed each day. I have also purchased school uniforms, coats, shoes and other necessary items from the School-Home Support Welfare Fund. I also offer pastoral support as well as finding opportunities within the local community for the families and children to take part in activities such as ESOL classes, workshops, coffee mornings and children’s activities in their locality.
What is the impact of this support?
Most of the families I work with feel isolated, as they don’t have many people they can talk to or let alone open up to. Their individual journeys to the UK have made them anxious and sceptical of opening up to others for fear of getting hurt, and many of them are healing from significant trauma. I open up my room for them to be able to talk over a cup of tea, in a judgement free space.
One of my parents in particular suffered from domestic violence and is a single parent. When it came to her needs and the support she needed for her child, she was very reserved and apprehensive to open up. She found it difficult to express herself and was very shy. However, after breaking down barriers and spending some time with her while helping her enrol into courses and classes she opened up and now tells me how she is feeling so I can support her better. She is now confident and engages well with others.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Refugees and migrants are more than just statistics, they are people and families with stories and traumas to share. They didn’t choose the situation they were in, they are some of the most vulnerable and lonely members of our communities today. We all have a role to play in making them feel comfortable and more importantly safe, be that with a smile, a warm welcome or a kind word.