Last week, I attended an evening at Coram Voice to support refugee children.
The National Youth Theatre put on a short play "Wherever I lay my head" to demonstrate the appalling experiences that these children go through, on their way to safety. It also illustrated the baffling bureaucracy that they face once in the UK.
We heard a short speech from the head of Children's Services of Kent County Council. He told us of the enormous pressure that his local authority is under, with some 1000 child asylum seekers to care for. Somehow they have done it, with help from other local authorities, but clearly Kent is on the front line carrying out its statutory duties for children in need.
We also had a talk given by Dr Ana Draper, a psychotherapist. She talked about the work that she had been doing with these children. One of the first problems she identified, was that they had chronic difficulties in sleeping. Typically they travel by night, and sleep by day to avoid detection as they go through various countries on their way to the country, that they believe will offer them safety. Sleep is a hazardous affair in many parts of the world because they are often harassed or attacked. This is on top of the events that drove them from their countries of origin, and the trauma of those experiences. Consequently, they come to this country in a hyper alert state, unable to function as other children do. Engaging with our education system was something of a struggle, even given the language barrier.
Dr Draper decided to tackle the sleep issue as a priority. She developed simple "sleep packs" which were composed of typically a sleep mask, aromatic gels, and other simple items designed to help get people to sleep. This simple idea was startingly successful. Slowly but surely the children's mental state began to improve and they were able to make use of the service available to them.
All in all a great eye opener. Dr Draper, Kent County Council and Coram Voice are doing great work here.
Malcolm Johnson, Specialist Child Abuse Lawyer