B5. Schools and Young People – Oral Paper Session

Friday, 31 March 2017

VFST Schools Support Program 2007 – 2017

Many children and young people who arrive in Australia under the refugee and humanitarian program have not been able to attend school or may have had disruptions to their schooling. In addition to developing knowledge and understandings of formal schooling in Australia and learning a new language, students of refugee background have suffered severe emotional and physical deprivations. The impact of trauma in the context of learning is difficult for students and their families. It is also presents gaps in knowledge, understanding and readiness for teachers and the broader education system as they receive students and families from refugee backgrounds as part of the school community.

The VFST has a long history of working in partnership with schools to build their capacity to support the education and wellbeing needs of refugee background students, their families and communities.

Since 2007 Foundation House has been funded by the Department of Education and Training to provide a Schools Support Program across metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. Based on a whole-school approach the Program has worked in partnership with over 190 schools. This presentation will outline key tools and change processes that have contributed to significant development and partnership work with the education sector in Victoria. This presentation will highlight the importance of this work in advocating for social inclusion for students and families from refugee backgrounds and change processes that are relevant and possible in other contexts.

Samantha McGuffie (Foundation House)

Collaboration in Canberra: FASSTT’s Companion House and Dickson College’s Refugee Bridging Program working together with students from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds

In this presentation we will describe how a collaborative effort between a secondary college and a FASSTT agency can enhance torture and trauma recovery and resettlement for students from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds. The Refugee Bridging Program is a unique educational program in Canberra. It was established in 2009, and its design is based on Companion House’s trauma recovery goals; hence, there is a natural synergy with Companion House Assisting Survivors of Torture and Trauma.

For young people from a refugee background, educational achievement can be a powerful goal. However, there are multiple factors (e.g. effects of past trauma, lack of education in home country or in refugee camp, family pressures and upheavals, multiple losses and fears for family members who remain in unsafe situations overseas, etc.) that can interfere with this crucial settlement goal. We will draw on examples of our work to describe how Companion House and Dickson College have addressed these challenges in ways that preserve the young person’s dignity and agency.

For young people from an asylum seeker background, the above challenges are compounded by government policies that impose structural barriers in relation to educational pathways. All of the unaccompanied minors in Canberra attended Dickson College, so this issue affected a significant proportion of the Refugee Bridging program class over a 3 year period. We will discuss how Dickson College and Companion House worked together to address these barriers in the case of unaccompanied minors.

Through discussion of de-identified examples, we hope to show how this working partnership offers a holistic response to young people who have survived torture and trauma, including unaccompanied minors and students with highly complex needs.

Deborah Nelson (Companion House Assisting Survivors of Torture and Trauma)

S.T.A.R.S. for settlement and learning

In order to succeed at school, students from a refugee background need to feel safe and to establish positive and nurturing relationships. They need to feel connected with their community. They need to learn new skills and a new language in order to participate, to find connections, gain confidence and become competent in their new environment. One way to view the needs of students from refugee backgrounds during resettlement is described in the S.T.A.R.S. model, which proposes that the key elements for successful settlement are Safety, Trust, Attachment, Responsibility and Skills (UNICEF, Margaret de Monchy, 1999).

The S.T.A.R.S. model informs the STARS in Schools: supporting students from a refugee background professional learning currently being delivered in NSW public schools. This course assists school leaders and teachers in developing whole school approaches and teaching practices that help refugee students feel safe, develop trust and attachment, take responsibility and develop the skills needed for participation and learning at school in Australia.

This session looks at how the S.T.A.R.S. model is explored within professional learning and used at Fairfield Primary School to inform whole school practices, pedagogy and classroom environments that assist students from refugee backgrounds to recover from trauma, engage successfully in learning and participate actively in the school community.

Jane Wallace (NSW Department of Education), Kim Cootes (Fairfield Public School), Gemma Jenkins (NSW Department of Education)

From Roots to Leaves – Tree of Life- Camp experience

This paper discusses the process and outcomes of Tree of Life – Dulwich Centre application at STARTTS youth camp for young women who have experienced dislocation, prolonged exposure to war and associated trauma.

It is believed that attending camps supports young women to develop supportive relationships with fellow participants and staff, through engage in challenging activities, making decisions and participating in new activities. The camp ran for four days with 25 young women aged between 14-18 years old, and was led by a multidisciplinary team and applied a Biopsychosocial approach to recovery in line with STARTTS model of best practice.

The Tree of Life session included the various stages of Tree of Life model. Four themes were generated: first, a sense of community, young women and staff relationships developed both at the camp and outside of the camp, through sharing personal stories and experiences. Second, participants reconnected with important aspects of their lives, rediscovering identity which helped them to plan their recovery and settlement. Third, use of tree as a creative metaphor, how young women control their lives. Fourth, the presence of outsider witness, young women listened to the stories and then talked about their own feelings and also expressed how that version touched them and resonated with their own life story. From this secure base, young women fostered group cohesion, worked with differences, enhanced social wellbeing and instilled hope for the future.

Lina Ishu (STARTTS)

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