Providing Psychosocial support for Youth Refugees

In this training kit we offer basic knowledge of psychosocial support and exercises for youth workers, students in the field of youth work, volunteers working with the target group, and young refugees between the ages of 13 and 30.  The training kit is divided in two parts: Basis of Knowledge and Exercises.

It is good to know the target group in general, and what kind of support this group needs. Mental health, wellbeing and psychosocial support are directly linked. In the first part, the training kit presents what children and youth mental health means and what mental health challenges they face. In addition, training kit discusses wellbeing and various protective factors from the children`s and youth’s point of view. After this the kit discusses psychosocial support.

Immigration is a psychological process and it is essential to know about different feelings and states of mind which can arise during this. Everything that has happened in the past affects mental health, but to this must be added all the things that is burdening a person in the present. These may be called different stress factors. Individuals react to events differently and that is the reason why the training kit discusses the term resilience.

In youth work, one can emphasize individual work, presence of the worker and listening, confidential relationships and activities. Also the group work activities and using art-based methods can be very effective ways to support young people.

The well-being of the workers and keeping one’s own condition in check is important. The training kit also mentions this subject and discusses various good practices in the workplace. Well-being and psychosocial support can be approached through various exercises. The training kit discusses, amongst others, relaxation techniques and other practical exercises that young people can do themselves or together with the worker. Also working together as a group can be useful.

In Finland, The Southwest Finland Association for Mental Health together with social and healthcare professionals developed an approach to promote mental health. This project was called Serene. Serene developed separate group activities for those who have received their residence permit and for those who are still in the process. In addition, they developed psychoeducational material and group formats for asylum seekers and refugees and 3 relaxation exercises in 7 different languages. In Finland Serene’s work was presented with a Best Practices Award for acculturation by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. Serene’s methods are now a part of the service system for asylum seekers and refugees in the Southwest Finland. Some of these methods are introduced in this training kit.

How these exercises are promoting psychosocial well-being of young refugees and asylum seekers?

Experiences of displacement due to disasters, armed conflict, or persecution, have caused considerable psychological damage on individuals, families, and communities. Different individuals have different coping mechanisms to respond to loss, pain, disruption, and violence, which affect their current mental health and psychological well-being and may increase, in various ways, greater vulnerability to develop mental health problems in the future.

Children and young refugees represent the most vulnerable population affected by armed conflicts. They are often the first casualty of physical, social, and emotional abuse, and are also frequently denied adequate healthcare services. Children and young refugees need support and different means to cope with the significant changes in their life. They may have lost their natural protecting factors such as home, parents and close relatives, as well as their everyday routines. However, despite the importance to address the psychological and social well-being and recovery of the children and young refugees, their psychosocial support is often being overlooked. Early psycho-social support during the initial period of arrival in the host country is very important to sustain their mental health wellbeing in the future.

This brief guidance serves as a guideline for youth workers, students and volunteers in the field of youth work to support the psychosocial wellbeing of young refugees from the ages of 13 through to 30.  This support is through specific activities intended to help their coping mechanism in dealing with significant changes in their life. The toolkit covers specific points of good practice to consider when developing individual plans to support young refugees and offers advice on practical difficulties to help refugees expressing and processing their feelings regarding the new changes in their life. This guidance should be adapted according to different contexts, as standardized formats are sometimes difficult to follow due to limited capacities and local resources.

These activities can help youth workers and volunteers to provide psychosocial support for young refugees in three ways:

1.   To help them find their strengths and reinforce resilience.

2.   To introduce activities that enable them to interact with others.

3.   To help them learn how to relax.

Hence, the activities outlined in this training kit are categorized into three types, namely: Energizers, Group Reflection and My Strength/Resilience in order to respond to the above objectives. In addition, this training kit also include some functional exercises for the immigrants to introduce and familiarize themselves with the local residents and with each other.

There are few points to consider before starting the activities. Firstly, youth workers and volunteers are expected to ensure whether the activities are suitable for the young refugee participants. Some activities may be better for participants with more stable situations and some others may be better for those having uncertain circumstances. Ideally, for every activity, the group should be divided according to age group.  Some exercises are also more suitable for individual work or group work accordingly.  Some activities can also be readily implemented without much input from the participants, whilst some others may need to involve the young refugee participants to plan the activities together.

Read: Psychosocial Play and Activity Book for Children and Youth exposed to Difficult Circumstances. UNICEF-MENA 2002. (page 12)