Support in times of crisis

The following information may be useful for supporting students and families affected by the Afghanistan crisis

Current context - Afghanistan

With the Taliban moving across Afghanistan, tens of thousands of people have fled their homes for the capital, Kabul, and neighbouring countries.

This situation, including graphic scenes of chaos in Kabul and most of Afghanistan being reported in the media, is creating overwhelming feelings of fear for many people from Afghanistan who live in Australia, and who have family and friends in Afghanistan or other links to it.

Many of our Afghan students and their families have indicated that they are extremely distressed and finding it hard to cope. COVID-19 and lockdown have exacerbated this distress due to children and families not being able to access their usual familial and community supports at this time. Many of the LGAs experiencing harsher restrictions have significant numbers of Afghan residents and learning from home has meant that many of the supports which are usually available to students and their families through schools are also more difficult to access.

Students from Afghan backgrounds or with association with Afghanistan may need additional support and to be reassured that their educational environment is a safe place to be.

Possible difficulties, experiences and feelings of students and their families

  • anxiety associated with a sense of loss of security and safety
  • re-emergence of previous trauma: re-traumatisation
  • increased sensitivity to issues of justice and equity
  • behaviour changes such as withdrawal or acting out
  • conflict with peers
  • feelings of uncertainty worry and fear about what is happening to loved ones who are still in Afghanistan
  • helplessness and despair
  • survivor guilt due to being ‘safe’ while loved one's face threat to life and basic human rights
  • distress due to frequent graphic or uncensored images via media or social media. This may be frightening and confusing for younger children who may be overly exposed to this content and not have the capacity to process what they are seeing.
  • isolation during COVID -19 and Army and increased police presence in some LGAs are exacerbating fear and potentially triggering trauma.
  • grief due to disintegration of peace and safety in Afghanistan.
  • anger and resentment due to many social and political factors that have contributed to the current conflict and destruction of safety.
  • feelings of not being understood by wider community.
  • headaches and general body pains.

The current events in Afghanistan also have the potential to impact on students from other communities and with similar previous experiences, for example:

  • communities from countries which are in close proximity to Afghanistan, such as Iran and Pakistan, may also be experiencing anxiety
  • Iraqi and Syrian communities may be experiencing re-traumatisation due to similar events in their own countries
  • individuals with links to Afghanistan, or people from Afghan backgrounds including friends, teachers and case workers.
  • Even though borders are closed at the moment, small numbers of refugees have been arriving in Australia, therefore some newly arrive students are still enrolling in schools. These students may have limited friendship groups and familiarity with school routines and may need additional support.

How can schools help?

Schools play a critical role in providing stability and support for children, young people and families with links to Afghanistan.

Making students feel safe is very important. One of the best ways to ensure students feel safe is by keeping to routine as much as possible. Even though learning from home presents significant disruptions to students’ normal routines, teachers can establish and develop new routines within the learning from home environment.

Staff should carefully monitor students and follow the usual school procedures to report on, and support students who are showing signs of extreme distress. Teachers and support staff can check in with individual students by phone, email or online meetings, in line with Department policies, and explain what support structures are available including the school counselling staff, and external agencies. Referrals can also be made to school counselling staff, the Refugee Student Counselling Support Team, or outside agencies like STARTTS if required, using internal school processes. The Refugee Student Counselling Support Team can be contacted for advice on 1300 579 060. See below for links to other services.

When talking to students it is important not to make assumptions about the way any individual student or group of students will react. Some students may be less aware than others about what is going on overseas, so the support needed by individual students may vary significantly.

Bilingual School Learning Support Officers may be able to assist in contacting students and families, Some bilingual staff with links to Afghanistan may also be experiencing trauma or re-traumatisation at this time and care should be taken to maintain staff safety and self-care.

English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) teachers are likely to already be providing individual or small group learning support to many students from Afghan backgrounds. Mainstream teachers and EAL/D teachers should share observations and work together to determine the best way to support students.

Supporting students

Routines

Try to maintain routines and predictability within the learning from home environment.


Acknowledgement of the situation

Acknowledge that some students and/or staff may be feeling very distressed and worried.


Students’ backgrounds

Be aware of, and sensitive, to students’ family, cultural, religious and language backgrounds as well as students’ individual circumstances


Listen

Be willing to listen to what students have to say.


Understanding

Be understanding and flexible to accommodate the impact of the situation on individuals.


Reinforcement of instructions

Check that instructions are understood by students. Additional clarification may be necessary because some students may be distracted.


School work

Completion of homework and assignments may need some flexibilty.


Reassurance

Reassure students that your online classes are safe places.


Cameras on

When learning from home, having your camera on can assist in supporting distressed students who may find it comforting to see the faces of teachers who are familiar to them.

Time for interaction

Friendship bonds are really important for distressed students as is being in contact with others from the same ethnic or cultural group. Isolation due to COVID-19 may have limited students contact with friends. During online classes, allocate time for fun activities and student interaction.


Encourage active participation

Being actively involved in learning develops emotional strength. Encourage students to exercise and be as active as possible and help students take control of their own learning.


Counselling support

If a student appears particularly distressed or you have concerns for a student, speak to the school counselling staff to organise support or referral to other agencies where appropriate.


The Refugee Student Counselling Support Team: 1300 579 060

Additional support

A variety of people within and outside the school can offer support, including the school’s welfare team, counsellors, youth workers, community organisations and other relevant government and non-government agencies.


Supporting families

Family members may be a source of support at this time. However, families and adults will be undergoing their own distress as well. Parents and adults may be unwittingly exposing children and young people to media reports including violence and graphic images. Parents and families may not be aware of the consequences of this type of exposure on children. It may be helpful to recommend to parents and carers to monitor their children’s exposure to current events on the news and social media.

Communicating with families about this issue should be handled sensitively. Telephone interpreting can be used to assist in communicating with parents who do not speak or understand English well. See the Department of Education’s interpreting and translations website for more information.

Supporting staff

Staff should be reminded that it is important to look after their own emotional wellbeing. Some may need to talk with a friend or a colleague. Support for staff is also available from the Employee Assistance Program: 1800 060 650

Support Services

NSW Department of Education,
Refugee Student Counselling Support Team

The Refugee Student Counselling Support Team provides support for schools through:

  • advice and consultation
  • tailored professional learning
  • targeted support in complex cases
  • assistance in connecting with other supports
  • projects and resource development

Intake line: 1300 579 060 or Email: refugeesupportteam@det.nsw.edu.au

Information and resources for school staff can also be found the RSCST Google site. Please ensure you are logged into your Department of Education google account in order to access this site.

Multicultural Education

  • The Multicultural Education team promote intercultural understanding and harmony in schools, supporting English language learners, refugees and newly arrived students. Email: multicultural.programs@det.nsw.edu.au
  • Refugee Student Programs Advisor: Ph (02) 7814 3796. Supporting refugee students webpages for an overview of refugee students in schools, with links to relevant information.

External Supports

NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS)

  • Phone and Zoom-based consultation services to school staff across NSW
  • Counselling referrals and offering telehealth counselling sessions to people (including children and young people) with refugee experience: STARTTS Referral Form
  • STARTTS School Liaison Officers
  • “Hints for Healing” website resources created by STARTTS to support educators and school counsellors that work with students with refugee experience


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