A specialized immigration team at Peel Children’s Aid (CAS) will serve as a leading expert that child welfare agencies can turn to as they prepare for the thousands of Syrian refugee families arriving in Ontario.
Members of this team will assist other agencies across the province in navigating the complexity of the immigration and settlement systems, including reaching out to community, provincial, and federal partners. Peel’s immigration team has extensive experience working with refugees and immigrants. A number of other CASs also have plans underway to support the refugees.
“We can assist agencies with understanding the challenges that refugees face, such as trauma, being uprooted from their homes, adapting to a new culture, loss of family supports, change of economic status, and parenting challenges,” says Mary Beth Moellenkamp, Senior Service Manager at Peel CAS. “Many refugees have also witnessed and experienced violence and conflict. We have to be mindful of this trauma and the effects that they can have over time.”
The effects of such trauma, such as depression, isolation, and behavioural issues in children, may not become evident for months. The “early help” offered by CASs can prevent trauma- and stress-related issues from escalating to the point where children become unsafe and need to be removed from their homes. In the majority of situations, early help can defuse conflicts and alleviate pressure, allowing families to stay together.
“Parent–child conflicts and behavioural issues may occur. A child growing up in Canada is learning values and norms that differ from their parents’ more traditional values, and this can impact family relationships and stability,” says Mary Beth Moellenkamp. “We can help children, youth, and parents access supports to work through these kinds of issues or challenges.”
With funding from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Servicess and the support of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), CASs across the province will ensure that families with children receive the support they need. This additional support is essential, as a positive post-trauma environment can help mitigate the impact of these experiences and foster recovery.
“It’s a great opportunity to be responsive early in the process of the settlement of refugees. We’re also educating ourselves in child welfare about their experiences,” says Sharon Evans, Senior Analyst at OACAS. “Our mandate is to protect children, and one way to do that is by strengthening their families.”
Community partners are being encouraged to refer families to their local CAS for specialized support. In addition, opportunities for individuals to contribute resources to refugee families exist in local communities. Canada has already begun welcoming the first wave of the 25,000 Syrian refugees expected to arrive in 2016, with approximately 25% settling in Ontario.