Sunday, 26 May 2024
Sunday, 26 May 2024

Lack of mental health support for hosting schemes could compound refugees’ trauma

Refugees and asylum seekers in the UK could find themselves traumatised even further due to a lack of mental health training for their hosts and the support agencies caring for them.

That’s the warning from charity Trauma Treatment International (TTI), which carried out a research project into the provision for refugees and their British hosts. The project was launched in response to the rapid increase in hosting under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Over two months, the charity undertook quantitative online research with 50 organisations and qualitative interviews with 10 organisations and four hosts. In addition, hosts were invited to complete an online survey about their experiences.

Tiffany Watts, a lead consultant on the project, said:

“Our research shows that, when refugee hosting is done well, it is effective in helping to tackle trauma. It helps address the basic human need to belong, feel safe and feel valued, and gives refugees and asylum seekers a sense of dignity. This can support the healing process.

“However, we have learned that hosting services across the UK vary widely, with limited Government recognition and investment in trauma-informed support, and no collective best practice standard. Councils, non-government organisations and the education sector are scrambling to catch up with Government promises around Homes for Ukraine. This has led to a fragmented approach and postcode lottery support systems.”

She added: “Many hosts responded to Government calls for housing through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, unaware of the high level of need to provide practical support. In some cases, hosting is breaking down and hosts are burning out as they effectively act as untrained case workers. One host said: ‘I feel like I’m out in the abyss and can’t get the Government to deliver on their promises’.”

TTI’s research also found that Homes for Ukraine hosts are unsure how to access mental health advice or services for their refugee guests, while they are also uncertain which ones they can trust.

Tiffany said: “There is a plethora of online packs and advice, but they vary in quality and are not always expert reviewed. In addition, hosts are often told to call the council or send guests to the GP if they exhibit any signs of trauma. The strain this could put on an already overwhelmed NHS is huge, with long waiting lists potentially compounding trauma.”

TTI CEO Quen Geuter said:

“Trauma is something we can all learn about; we don’t have to be clinically trained in order to help someone feel better. At TTI, we aim to create trauma-informed communities where people learn simple techniques for recognising trauma, supporting positive mental health and preventing further traumatisation.”

TTI’s research also shows that staff of hosting organisations, who have tried to support Homes for Ukraine in addition to their own schemes, are experiencing high levels of stress and burnout. Many of these organisations are small, relying on large cohorts of volunteers and stretched staff teams to carry out home visits or respond to calls from hosts. One organisation reported a turnover of staff every six months. Ultimately, the research shows that there is very limited self-care support within the workplace to prevent vicarious trauma.

Trauma Treatment International has compiled a five-point series of recommendations based on the research project. Put in place, these will mitigate against the risks of trauma for refugees, their hosts and the support agency staff and volunteers.

TTI’s recommendations:

• Develop universal standards for trauma-informed training and information for refugees and their hosts. This should include tips on how to help before professional intervention is required; this will prevent the escalation of trauma and lessen the impact on the NHS.
• Formulate high-quality trauma training for volunteers and employees of support agencies. This training should be standardised and evidence-based and offered alongside peer-to-peer facilitated learning.
• Help organisations lessen their risk of trauma exposure through evidence-based resilience testing. Add trauma-informed approaches to HR policies, staff self-care supervision and access to mental health support.
• Bring together hosting schemes and organisations across the country to agree and sign up for a charter of trauma-informed good practice. Through this, key issues can be identified, solutions can be found, and delivery can become consistent with clear signposting for hosts and guests.
• Share learning internationally to ensure that trauma-informed hosting becomes the norm wherever it is being set up in the world. This should be promoted and resourced, supported by significant agencies.

Quen added: “We are now working with hosting schemes to develop a coordinated approach and define the next steps. Ultimately, we want to reduce trauma for both hosts and guests, prevent compounded or vicarious trauma, reduce pressure on the UK health system, and build the resilience of hosting schemes.

“We call on the British Government to get behind this approach and ensure that victims of trauma living in the UK can heal from their experiences.’’

Trauma Treatment International has compiled a guide for UK hosts to deal with their guests in a trauma-informed way. This includes helping refugees acclimatise to their surroundings, and not expecting gratitude from them. The tips can be downloaded here: https://www.tt-intl.org/helping-refugees. The charity also offers training for hosts and organisations to become trauma-informed.

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