The number of migrant and refugee school-age children around the world has grown by 26 per cent since 2000 and with them have come an unforeseen range of challenges.

In Germany, one-fifth of refugee children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Unaccompanied minors are particularly vulnerable. One-third of the160 unaccompanied asylum seeking children in Norway from Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Somalia suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder;  of the 166 unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents in Belgium, 37-47 per cent  had ‘severe or very severe’ symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.

Rates of trauma among the displaced in low and middle income countries are also high. For instance, 75 per cent of the 331 internally displaced children in camps in southern Darfur in Sudan met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and 38 per cent had depression.

“Teachers are not and should never be intended as mental health specialists, but they can be a crucial source of support for children suffering from trauma if they’re given the right training,” Manos Antoninis, Director of the GEM Report, says.

But in Germany, the majority of teachers and day-care workers said that they did not feel properly prepared to address the needs of refugee children.

In the Netherlands, 20 per cent of teachers with more than 18 years of experience working in mainstream schools reported that they experienced a high degree of difficulty dealing with students with trauma.

The vast majority of these teachers (89 per cent) encountered at least one student with trauma in their work.

A review of early childhood care and education facilities for refugee children in Europe and North America found that, although many programmes recognized the importance of providing trauma-informed care, training and resources were ‘almost universally lacking’.

“There is one boy in my class who was held in detention in Iraq – if you shout at him, he runs out of the room and doesn’t come back,” Jenny Caroline Herbst, a teacher in a Welcome Class for new arrivals in Germany, says.

“I have had no formal training. And yes I’ve felt overwhelmed.

“Often teachers don’t realise that traumatised children cannot learn like other children.

“These children have often become the head of the household. They don’t have a comfort zone in which to heal from their trauma.” 

In the absence of health centres, schools often play a key role in restoring a sense of stability.

But teachers need basic knowledge about trauma symptoms and providing help to students.

However, they face challenges, both in host countries, and particularly in emergency settings.

NGOs, including the International Rescue Committee, iACT, and Plan International, are training teachers to face this challenge through their programmes, but their reach is not enough.

“Conflicts and displacement are not going away,” Antoninis says.

“They call for considerable changes in teaching practice that countries must work into their plans. Shifting teachers’ approaches towards these children, helping them build confidence and self-expression through role playing and group discussions can hand them a life-line.”

Key recommendations:

1.     Learning environments must be safe, nurturing and responsive.

2.     Teachers working with migrant and refugee students who have suffered trauma face particular hardships and need training to cope with challenges in the classroom.

3.     Psychosocial interventions require cooperation between education, health and social protection services.

4.     Social and emotional learning interventions need to be culturally sensitive and adapted to context. They should be delivered through extra-curricular activities as well.

5.     Community and parental involvement should not be neglected.