Children and young people from refugee backgrounds have often experienced major disruptions to their education due to social upheaval in their country of origin and periods of displacement in refugee camps.
QPASTT has supported schools across Queensland to respond to the needs of refugee children and young people and their families. Here, we share reflections from QPASTT Youth Engagement and Advocacy Officers working in schools.
Victor Kollie – Youth Engagement and Advocacy Officer
“QPASTT does outreach work in public and private primary and secondary schools. We work in partnership with schools, supporting refugee students directly while also working with school leaders and teachers to provide advice and training about the impacts of refugee trauma on memory and concentration as well as learning in general. This support helps teachers to adopt a trauma-informed approach in their practice and to recognise and respond to trauma symptoms in young people in the classroom. It is our experience that when teachers are trauma-informed in their teaching practice, they can intervene early and prevent situations from escalating. Being trauma informed helps the whole classroom.
Our direct work with young people in school is focused on early intervention, helping them to understand their issues and develop positive coping strategies as well as making referrals to other services as necessary.
We also do group work in schools. One initiative is the DRUMBEAT program. DRUMBEAT is a social and emotional development program that runs as a closed group for a school term. The name DRUMBEAT is an acronym for Discovering Relationships Using Music, Beliefs, Emotions, Attitudes and Thoughts. It incorporates hand drumming, behavioural therapeutic principles and cognitive and dialogical elements. DRUMBEAT was developed by Holyoake in Western Australia.
QPASTT has adapted DRUMBEAT, integrating its principles with our trauma recovery framework. We create a place where participants can feel safe – the primary consideration for working with people who have experienced trauma. We start the initial session with creating a group agreement, which the young people help to develop. The agreement includes important factors like respect for each other, respect for the drum, and confidentiality. Every week, the group meets for one hour in a drumming circle. Facilitators lead a discussion around different topics, using rhythm exercises and group discussions. The focus is not on the individual but on the rhythm they have created and this approach makes it easier for young people to talk about their thoughts and feelings as well as things they would normally not discuss with other people. As the group comes together, they start to share their experiences which helps participants feel like they’re not alone. It helps to normalize and validate the feelings they may be experiencing as a result of exposure to traumatic events. It can help them process their experience and mourn feelings associated with their losses.
The groups enable strong connections with other people, widening participants’ social support networks and their friendship groups. They learn about topics including healthy relationships, reflection and growth, peer leadership, communication, emotional awareness and teamwork.
We had one young man who had been at school for two years but he didn’t have any friends. He struggled with reading so he couldn’t follow his class timetable and was missing classes. Through DRUMBEAT, he was able to build a friendship with another group member. They ended up having a number of classes together so he was able to get help with his timetable and he made a number of other friends through this relationship. Now in Year 12, he has made so many friends and is really enjoying school. He came to a recent school holiday activity at QPASTT and asked to bring his friends. DRUMBEAT is quite powerful in enabling young people to build really strong connections with each other.”
Aminullah Towhidi – Youth Engagement and Advocacy Officer
“In schools, we work with young people who have been referred to us because they might be struggling in school -with understanding the school system, managing their mental health and wellbeing or feeling disengaged. We can support them with 1:1 work, supporting them with different coping strategies, advocacy, referrals to counselling, figuring out education pathways, and supporting their social connections through recreation and sporting groups.
A great thing about QPASTT is that many of its staff are people with lived experience of being a refugee. We have been through the same processes as our clients so we can understand their struggles and experiences. People can feel confident talking to someone who they know has been in their shoes.
One of the biggest needs I see is that people need support understanding and adjusting to Australian culture. Acceptance and belonging is so important for young people and it can be hard making that cultural transition, especially when people have very real experiences of being looked down on or people making assumptions or stereotypes about refugees. As someone from a refugee background, I’ve seen a lot of people who are struggling with the system, people feeling shy to speak up or not being able to speak up because of the language barrier.”
I am a person who is more inclined to speak up and say something. I want to help people raise their voices and be heard.”
For more information about QPASTT’s Youth Programs, including how to make a referral, click here.