As part of our My View children’s therapeutic care project, we offer outreach counselling and workshops as well as training sessions for other professionals working with separated refugee children here on their own.
Refugee Council children’s therapist Sarah Temple-Smith blogs about a recent session.
Last month we were invited to run an interactive session with young people at Merton Council 14+ team’s Social evening for young refugees and to share skills and best practice with other colleagues who were attending.
The Social evening is held in a café opposite Merton Council and it was soon obvious that the young people were regular attenders and felt very comfortable there. They arrived in groups or on their own, greeting each other familiarly and chatting to their social workers.
After everyone had got themselves frothy hot chocolates or cold drinks the evening started with introductions from the Merton team. Colleagues from South London Refugee Association and Young Roots then invited us all to take part in some ice-breaking exercises, from speed-naming everyone in a circle to standing in lines with our eyes shut, communicating just by squeezing hands.
The My View session involved working with art materials to create a ‘flag’, that is, a set of symbols or drawings on a stick, which, like the way a national flag represents a country, could be seen to represent each of us. For this we considered the things that were important to us in our lives, including the things we liked doing, and how we felt we came across to other people.
This kind of identity affirming work is particularly healing for young people who have had to leave behind everything that defines them – their culture, their families, their communities – when they came here, either because they were seeking asylum or because they were victims of trafficking and exploitation. It also allows room for narrative, with the participants talking to each other as they work, sharing their feelings and supporting their peers.
Working non-verbally like this can also take the pressure off young people who may not yet have fluent English skills or, as in the case of a couple of younger boys, if they are generally quite shy in groups.
Sitting around a central table, covered with glue sticks, crayons, ink-stamps and stickers, both the young people and the professionals threw themselves into crafting their ‘flags’. Before long we were able to hold them up, on their coloured ‘flagpoles’ and talk the rest of the group through why we had made them the way we had.
And we all – professionals and young people –had a beautiful work of art to take home with us which encapsulated our thoughts about ourselves, our pleasures and our talents – and the strength this gives us in our lives.