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By Nick Kzanoski (he/him), teacher, Merritt

The invasion of Ukraine on February 24 has displaced over five million people, half of whom are children. These displaced persons have sought refuge in other countries. The Canadian government has announced that it will permit an unlimited number of Ukrainian refugees into Canada and provide access to medical care, housing, and education.

The children who come to Canada will have been exposed to many traumatic events that will affect their mental and physical health long after escaping the war. When these children arrive in our BC schools, they will bring their trauma with them, and teachers will need to be prepared.

Ukrainian refugees will have experienced trauma such as:

  • violence as witnesses or victims
  • acts of war
  • lack of food, water, and shelter
  • physical injuries, infections, and diseases
  • lack of medical care
  • loss of loved ones
  • disruption in or lack of access to schooling
  • living in refugee camps
  • separation from family
  • loss of community
  • uncertainty about the future
  • harassment by local authorities
  • travelling long distances by foot.

Upon arriving in our schools, teachers need to be aware of some of the core stressors these children will face, including:

  • traumatic stress—war, flight and migration, poverty, uncertainty, loss of family
  • resettlement stress—lack of housing, lack of parental employment, loss of culture, transportation difficulties
  • acculturation stress—fitting in at school, language difficulties, cultural norms, family identity
  • isolation stress—feelings of loneliness, discrimination, harassment, not fitting in with others, family in other countries.

The effects of trauma on children can include but are not limited to:

  • anxiety, fear, depression, helplessness, panic
  • gastrointestinal issues, headaches, pain, insomnia, fatigue
  • challenging behaviour as children try to cope with their trauma.

Refugee children will need:

  • open, welcoming school staff
  • patience from teachers
  • language and cultural assistance
  • access to counsellors
  • positive relationships with adults in schools.

As Canadian schools welcome refugees it will be imperative that teachers and school staff be trauma-informed and be prepared to provide assistance.

Check out the following resources for more information about how teachers can be prepared to support refugee students:

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