Why being on the outside makes it hard to be a kid from a refugee background
You’re only eleven-years old, about to start grade 6 at school. It’s a school you’ve never been to, where you don’t know anyone and where they speak a language you don’t yet properly understand. The other kids tease you because you speak funny and dress differently. It’s been more than a year since you last went to school at all, because of the dangers you faced in the country you fled. It makes you feel bad when you see red pen all over your work. You used to be good at school, before everything changed.
You don’t understand how this school works, how this country works. Your parents are learning this all too. You have to help them set-up bank accounts, utility accounts, and it’s up to you to contact the landlord when the stove stops working, and Mum can’t cook dinner.
You feel safe here. But now you’re scared in a different way, with a whole lot of new responsibilities, in a strange place, without the friends and extended family you could run to before when things felt hard.
This is what it’s like to be a recently resettled refugee child
Navigating a new dynamic with family, and a new school, seeking new friends and community connections, in a new country with a new language. They may also have experienced trauma.
But this is just one story. And while the barriers they face might be similar to those of other children, the help kids from refugee backgrounds need to overcome them might not be. If someone starts by understanding what they need, it could make a big difference to how the rest of their story unfolds.
So what are common barriers kids from refugee backgrounds face?
Language: limited English language skills affects their ability to communicate, make new friends, and participate in school and activities.
Socio-cultural: differences in familial, educational and social upbringing can mean refugee kids face cultural disparities which can be confusing and confronting, forcing them, before they’re able, to navigate clashes in social norms, behaviours and attitudes, religion or ways of thinking. This can lead to negative experiences such as racial discrimination and social conflict.
Identity and belonging: building an understanding who you are is far more difficult when you feel socially isolated and alone in your experiences.
For refugee kids, this can have a ripple effect into their futures, limiting their employment pathways or in long-term mental health issues.
Listening to each child, to understand their needs is the first step.
While more generalised support services exist for refugee families, specialised support, programs and resources for children are less common, and can be difficult to find or access.
RMCC exists to bridge this gap in education, culture, and community for refugee children. Focusing on one-on-one mentoring programs that place the individual needs of each child at the core, we partner with families, schools and local community to break down the barriers they face throughout their settlement journey.
Programs such Sidekicks and Side by Side bring together refugee children in need with mentors, who deliver personalised support and training. Our mentors create a caring and inclusive environment for refugee children to learn, shape their confidence, and help create connections.
This includes helping them with their English language skills, supporting school projects and homework, building social and life skills, and walking them through cultural differences and unpack conflicting ideas. Each program is tailored to fit the child’s needs and mostly guided by goals defined by the children themselves, with ongoing support.
Fostering positive experiences
Having no sense of belonging, feelings of social isolation, and experiences of discrimination can impact a child’s motivation to go out and engage in activities and fun. In fact, we have found that many refugee children don’t look forward to their school holidays when they first connect with RMCC, because it means being home alone or faced with responsibilities of taking care of younger siblings.
Our School Holiday Program exists to resolve these issues. We build trust and connections between refugee children and their peers, families, and community, through interactive and inclusive activities, such as going to the Melbourne Zoo and the National Gallery of Victoria. These holiday sessions create positive childhood experiences and memories, that help build on each child’s sense of identity and belonging.
Follow the journey
Over 2,000 refugee children arrive in Victoria every year. That means over 2,000 stories waiting to be told, and over 2,000 futures to be shaped. Our goal is to reach and support each and every one of them.