Being a recently resettled refugee child

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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.

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How RMCC is Different to Other Orgs

Our RMCC journey began because of a need that was not being met. We decided to mix things up by working a little differently in the way we approached a complex issue.

RMCC creates a collaboration of the key figures in a child’s life and supports them to work together for the educational and social needs of each child. We also provide each kid access to mentors from a diverse background that they can relate to. This means that all barriers are being tackled in unison by an extensive support network. Our focus on the key areas of education, identity and belonging, life skills, and mental health and wellbeing ensures that there are no gaps in our network and that we continue to overcome barriers wherever they arise to improve educational and social outcomes.

RMCC provides a space where kids can grow confidence and establish social connections while increasing their own independence. Schools are also supported with opportunities to explore how they can establish a support system within their school community and how RMCC can help them get there through strategic planning and professional development.

 

We build a personal connection

It takes time for a child to find their bearings and not all barriers arise at once. That is why we don’t just provide support through the first 6 to 12 months of resettlement, but provide ongoing programs and support to families and schools during and after this time. This helps to guarantee every child is supported throughout their journey, however long it may take.

We always begin by working with each child to address their individual needs. We then support their parents or guardians and schools to do the same. This helps to build the same sense of value, identity and understanding throughout their school and home lives, while making sure each kid can comfortably find (and use) their own voice.

We also recognise that not all children face the same difficulties during resettlement — some may face language barriers, may have never attended school, some are socially isolated or are learning to walk between two or more cultures. This is why all of our programs are specially designed with tangibility at the forefront to address these issues.

 

“Some of the differences are that we provide weekly mentoring programs, so we don’t teach or dictate what each kid should be doing but empower them to be able to overcome the barriers they face themselves in a way that works best for them. This means that each program is fluid for each kid because we tailor it to their needs.” — Alice Wojcik, RMCC

 

We work with our greater community

Last but most certainly not least, outside of our partnerships with schools and settlement agencies we work with the greater community so they can learn more about how they can support Australia’s newest and youngest members. Whether it is a business discovering what it means to walk between two or more cultures, or a classroom of students learning about what the settlement journey entails, it all plays an important part of growing an inclusive and welcoming community for all.

 

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Backstage with our RMCC mentors

“My favourite thing about mentoring is that I am able to assist children who are currently experiencing similar marginalisation, financial hardship and social barriers that I faced when I was young. It is truly gratifying to know that as a mentor, I have the potential to not only nurture these children and see them flourish, but to also positively change a social problem”.

These are the words of Tony — a RMCC mentor and friend who’s been a familiar face in one of our programs for the past 7 months.

At RMCC, it’s safe to say we’d be lost without our incredible, generous mentors, who donate their spare time and energy to stand by our goal of ensuring no refugee or migrant child slips through the cracks.

They do this by guiding and supporting their mentees in developing knowledge, skills and confidence that will allow them to fully engage in their education and feel a greater part of their community.

To date, we have successfully supported 650 children through our range of programs, which includes Sidekicks Junior and Sidekicks Senior, Family Learning Clubs, school holiday programs and life skill workshops.

And we don’t plan on stopping here. In fact, our 2020 goal is to support 2,000 kids, which is equivalent to the number of refugee and migrant children who resettle in Victoria every single year.

Why is mentoring so important?

Studies have shown that disadvantaged kids who have a mentor are 130% more likely to hold a leadership position in a club, school council or sports team, and 81% more likely to participate in sports or extracurricular activities.

Not only this, but children who regularly meet with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school, 37% less likely to skip a class and 55% more likely to enrol in university.

So, what is it like to become a RMCC mentor?

Mentoring at RMCC is so much more than just helping out with homework and teaching new skills. It’s about bonding long-term friendships and providing a stable form of support that kids can wholeheartedly rely on — something that is really important in this time of uncertainty and change.

Here’s RMCC mentor, Seraphina, to tell you about her experience:

“It is amazing to see the progress of kids from when I started in February until now! I’ve assisted a number of children with their reading and writing and seen their confidence grow with each session, as well as their enthusiasm and willingness to engage with the different mentors and other children. It’s been a great experience”.

Ready to make a difference?

Check out Tony’s advice to anyone who wants to become part of the RMCC family:

“From personal experience, the best advice I can give to any future mentor is to come into the room with two things: a receptive heart and a set of ears. Why? Because mentoring is a ‘two-way street’ and it is those two things that make the children feel respected and appreciated”.

Click here to read more about why we do what we do, or check out our volunteer page to see how you can get involved.

You can also make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here.

Meet Our New Chair

We’re excited to announce and welcome RMCC’s new Chair, Richard King!

Richard is a Managing Partner at GRA Cosway where he is a senior client lead, presenter, and public affairs consultant. Richard’s area of expertise is in the political advisory and government relations sector, and his breadth of experience also encompasses working formally as a Director for the Government Relations Australia Advisory.  Richard also currently serves as a Board Member for Screen Australia. He is passionate about arts and culture, economic empowerment, and human rights.

We’ve asked Richard a few questions so the RMCC community
can get to know him better…

 

Why is the mission of RMCC important?

 

The RMCC empowers refugee and migrant children and youth who now call Australia home to create their own opportunities.  This mission is important because refugee and migrant children face additional challenges to those of Australian born families.  These challenges can be linguistic, cultural or emotional in nature and can make it difficult for children to navigate their new environment.

Migration is a vital part of Australia’s cultural fabric.  Migration has contributed positively to our economy and way of life.  Equally, the RMCC’s mission is to support and empower our most important resource – our children.  These children will be our next generation of leaders, and by helping to facilitate their empowerment, the RMCC is benefiting all Australians.

 

What do you think makes RMCC different from other organisations in the space?

 

The use of mentoring by RMCC as its key engagement tool has enabled the organisation to tailor its approach to the needs of each child.  No two children share the same experience.  The RMCC programme ensures that it is flexible enough to be meaningful to all.

The RMCC approach is to focus on education, identity and belonging, life skills, and mental health and wellbeing, and to provide practical ways for children to overcome the most pressing challenges they face. This is not the cookie cutter approach that many of the larger settlement agencies need to apply.  It ensures that the most the critical needs of the individual child are always addressed through the programme.

RMCC’s approach to genuinely partnering with schools is another important aspect to its effectiveness.  The school environment is extremely important to migrant and refugee children as it is where most of their earliest experiences are occur.  The schools RMCC partner with share the objectives of the organisation and are critical to the design and implementation of the RMCC programmes.  In that sense, the success of the RMCC is truly a shared one.

 

Why did you join the RMCC board and what do you hope to contribute?

 

From the moment I was approached to consider joining the RMCC board it felt like the right decision.  The RMCC is a wonderful organisation, and the passion and vision of its founders, Alice and Bobby, is extraordinary!

My interest in immigration and settlement policy stemmed from my first serious career role back in the 90s.  I am passionate about the benefits migration brings to Australia and am committed to making our nation as welcoming to migrants and refugees as possible. Critical to this is the initial settlement experience they face.  The RMCC’s programmes make a difference, and I wanted to be part of it.

I hope to contribute by ensuring that the board is strongly governed, and as supportive to the goals of the organisation as possible.  Each board member brings a variety of skills and experience to the table, and I want to ensure that RMCC is fully utilising these to successfully implement its exciting corporate plan.