Strömsund is a small municipality in northern Sweden. The municipality has been a driving force in development work for resettled children and young people, work that has been made possible by support from the European Refugee Fund (ERF) and the national government body the Swedish Migration Agency.
For the past 9 years, Strömsund municipality has received nearly 100 refugees per year. Most are resettled refugees (in Sweden known as ‘quota refugees’), and at least half are children. Because so many of these newcomers are young, representatives of the municipality have been proactively working to promote their rights and needs in all areas of their and their families’ lives.
Children rarely have any opportunity to influence their everyday lives and the decisions that adults make for them. If their families flee or just move to a new country there is a lot to think about for everyone involved, and the adults who surround the children are not necessarily able to answer all their questions or calm their worries. Often the adults are fully occupied with practical issues and their own feelings, and there may be less space for children to voice their concerns. Possibilities for children to ask all their questions, get answers and to reflect provides security, and also creates better preconditions for them to be able to manage their situation in the long-term. If you are prepared for what will happen, this also means that you can get started on your own process as quickly as possible.
What did we do?
The development work undertaken by Strömsund municipality has shown that creating long-term, sustainable reception capacity at the local level depends on building knowledge and embedding methodologies and practices in all parts of the municipal organisation - in schools, pre-schools, workplaces, social services, clubs and association and many other venues and service areas. It depends very much on how far these organisations, and the individual professionals working in them, feel that they are part of the refugee reception system. It also, and very importantly, requires that the ENTIRE community bears shared responsibility for the reception process.
Our project aimed to disseminate knowledge and information methodology and materials to all the professional groups that encounter newly arrived children and young people. The material was created during the course of the project “Comprehensible all the way” (Begripligt Hela Vägen - 2012-2014). We are very happy that today the material is in demand locally, regionally and nationally, and even in other European countries where professionals are working on reception of newly arrived children and young people.
Our activities included direct counselling and advice for children, and for parents and employees. At the same time we organised parenting groups, school holiday activities for children, and skill-enhancing lectures and training for employees. Our point of departure has always been to focus on building on existing knowledge rather than emphasising a lack of knowledge – so focusing on opportunities rather than problems.
We established a Mentor Team consisting of a teacher and two Social Workers, who met children at the airport and stayed with them throughout their first 2 years in Strömsund. The team conducted welcome interviews, accompanied enrolments at school, mapped childrens’ knowledge, and provided activities and ongoing individual support. In some cases, we also had the advantage of meeting the children before they came to Sweden through the Swedish Migration Agency's pre-departure information activities for resettled refugees, known as the Swedish Cultural Orientation Programme (COP). This contact naturally strengthened our connections and helped to make the children's paths through resettlement much clearer to them.
Our method is based on a holistic approach in which dialogue and participation are the two most important factors. The material - the ‘pedagogical instrument’ - consists of six parts that simultaneously become milestones on the path that is the newly arrived child's first two years in Sweden.Together with other children and one or more adults, the newly arrived child repeats all the parts of the Swedish COP specialist module for children. Information about the new country forms the natural starting point.
Example from information package for younger children, ages 5-12
Swedish COP for children in Sweden together with teacher in Swedish as an additional language, 2014
Then the programme continues in various group activities such as “Me, us and society”, which discusses how society works and how the individual works in society, and in the child's own book “My past, my present and my future”.
As we see it the children have to feel at home, here and now in the community and in their new country, without losing contact with theirorigins or having to forget past experiences, language or memories. The common thread is about strengthening the child's identity and security - with a strong identity and a basic sense of security, it is easier to assimilate new knowledge, reflect and progress.
Would you like more information about our material and method? Are you involved in similar work to us in another part of Europe? If so we’ be delighted to hear from you! Contact Project Manager Elisabeth Lindholm at firstname.lastname@example.org.