Mental health services for unaccompanied children - Refugee Council

Mental health services for unaccompanied children

Most mental health practitioners aren’t trained to help traumatised children from different cultural backgrounds. In 2015 we developed My View, a specialist mental health service for refugee children and young people who arrive in the UK on their own.

Many of the children and young people we help have suffered traumatic experiences, unimaginable to most. They have witnessed the death, abduction or torture of parents or other relatives. They have been the victims of torture, violence, abuse or trafficking. Understandably, they have overwhelming feelings of loss, separation or survivor’s guilt.

My View takes as its starting point that the children we support have extremely distressing but normal responses to the traumas they have faced. What’s more, despite their young age, they have also shown huge resilience in surviving their past experiences. We aim to help these children harness their extraordinary strength.

“I did not have any hope when I first came here. I was thinking to harm myself but you have supported me and gave me education to myself.” Unaccompanied refugee child, My View

My View – a lifeline for children

All children receive one-to-one counselling where we help them understand symptoms such as nightmares, intrusive thoughts and anxiety. In some instances, cultural interpretations of these symptoms can undermine recovery. So we help children see that these are common responses to abnormal events and teach ways to manage them.

The children also attend group sessions. Our approach uses drama, music, art and play therapies. These methods allow issues to be explored non-verbally – a critical approach when trauma makes it difficult for the children to directly discuss their feelings or where their limited English prevents this.

For example, one activity we use with children whose English is limited is an interactive session with art materials where the children create a ‘flag’. Each flag is made up of a set of symbols which, like the way a national flag represents a country, can be seen to represent each individual child. During this activity, we ask the children to think about things that are important to them, including things which they liked doing at home and aspects of their identity they valued. This kind of identity affirming work is particularly healing for those who have had to leave behind everything that defines them.

Following counselling during 2017/18:

73%

of children reported an improvement in relation to feelings of loss and separation

68%

said they were able to sleep better

50%

reported less suicidal feelings
“The counsellor never told me I must do this or that, which gave me confidence to try to say many things – things I can’t say to friends. Even if I’m not happy I can say what I want. I just want to say thanks to my counsellor and My View for helping me cope with my problems and feel better.” Unaccompanied refugee child, My View

Children's stories


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Access training

Refugee Council is committed to sharing best practice in our work. My View therapists offer regular training and workshops for other professionals working with unaccompanied child refugees. Find out more by contacting our team below.


Get support

If you would like to refer a child or young person to the My View children’s therapy service, find out more below.

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My View