Meeting the needs of refugee children

Life can be challenging for any family of a child with complex health needs, but even more so for the children of refugees, says Anna Oldfield

Anna Oldfield
Anna Oldfield is a specialist children’s physio at Sirona Care and Health, East and Central Team, in Bristol

I recently worked with J, a delightful seven year old girl who was referred to community physio following ankle avulsion, after a fall on the stairs. She’d only just moved to Bristol, having been re-housed from London, where her family had arrived as refugees. During clinic it became apparent she had a profound learning disability, requiring constant 1:1 supervision to keep her safe. She also had epilepsy, reduced and unsteady mobility, painful carious teeth, concerns around unsafe swallow, very poor sleep and other health needs. 

Her parents were Arabic-speaking, with little/no English, so I worked closely with our Link worker, who speaks Arabic. J’s parents shared how they were utterly exhausted from the high level of care J requires and a lack of sleep. They were also dealing with their own mental health difficulties, due to their past trauma and difficult journey as refugees. They often brought us their post, as they couldn’t read any English – an additional challenge when faced with many appointment letters, reports/results and information sheets.

I can’t express enough the value of MDT working for these families – each service had a vital role to help meet J’s health and learning needs, and to support and empower her and her family. Communication between professionals was incredibly important to provide joined-up care, and to help reduce the stress and workload of her parents. She received input from many services, including physio, OT, disability team social workers, a consultant paediatrician, dentistry, SALT, Bristol Refugee Rights and SEN department.

The main role of physiotherapy was to provide support for her mobility needs, and work on improving balance and stability. But possibly the most important role in this instance was that of signposting, referring to other services and professionals, and communicating with wider MDT.

J now attends a special school with regular access to specialist teaching, therapy and health care. And her parents have been able to receive support and start learning English. 

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