With June 20-26 being Refugee Week, a UK-wide festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary Peppy Hills is reflecting on a year of supporting Syrian families who are settling in Birmingham, City of Sanctuary.
Since Project Salam began many refugee families in Birmingham have invited us into their homes and the welcomes have been warm. Along with the offer of food and drink, as a way of sharing tastes and traditions from their homeland there have been smiling faces and a willingness to connect. These warm welcomes have been a wonderful way for me to connect with Syrian families and a positive starting point for the conversations and Theraplay sessions we offer refugee families resettling in Birmingham.
Think of a time when you have felt really welcome and accepted, where people were pleased to see you and wanted to listen and interact with you. How did you feel? Did you let a breath out, relax your body and enjoy generally feel safe and accepted? Human beings are wired for social connection and we see this in tiny babies who seek connection from their primary carer from the moment they are born, via eye contact, crying if they are distressed and being comforted by their parent holding them close, rocking and singing to them.
These messages of connection given by a primary carer to their baby via sounds, movement and loving physical contact, confirm to the baby that they have been seen and they are safe. This creates a safe emotional base from which babies can develop and thrive and learn to build trusting and meaningful relationships.
We continue to need these experiences our whole loves and Project Salam offers refugee families resettling in Birmingham opportunities to feel safe in a playful context. Feeling safe helps us to be open to social connection. For children/young people who have experienced challenge and trauma in their lives, it can be more difficult for them to make social connections as their brain is wired for survival, and their system is less able to detect and respond to social interactions. Play is an effective way of communicating safety and playful activities such as Handstack, provide a simple structure and an opportunity for a parent and child to playfully interact, enjoying moments of togetherness in a fun context.
We experience many benefits when we feel seen and heard by another person. The brain releases chemicals such as oxytocin, known as the ‘bonding neurochemical’, which directly impacts on how our body feels and affects our mood. Oxytocin supports the brain releasing serotonin, which is a ‘feel-good hormone.’ During covid, people sought ways of connecting despite having to socially distance. Images of grandchildren waving through windows of care homes to connect with their grandparents was a familiar sight during lockdowns. Whilst we are two years on from the first lockdown in England, the impacts of reduced socializing during times of stress are evident in adults and children in schools and family homes. The British Medical Journal reported a 61% increase in mental health referrals for children and young people in the period April-September 2021, compared to the same period twelve months earlier and Ofsted’s recent report highlighted the negative impact on children’s social and emotional skills due to successive lockdowns.
The theme of this year’s Refugee Week is healing. Our Theraplay sessions offer a relaxed playful context where families settling in Birmingham can strengthen their relationships, and enjoy each other in a way that their previous circumstances have prevented. As a parent from Project Salam said
For more information about Beacon Family Service’s Project Salam, call 0121 270 0593 or contact email@example.com.
To learn more about Beacon’s work with families, visit our website beaconservices.org.uk.
See our Cards to Help You Connect resources which have many ideas for play activities which support meaningful interactions for adults and children in the context of play.