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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Child protection and the refugee crisis

It is impossible to read or listen to the news without the subject of the Syrian refugee crisis coming up. It is a displacement of people in mass numbers. Millions of people are internally displaced within Syria and externally displaced, particularly in the Middle East and Europe. Canada is in the process of taking in around 25,000 refugees.

The images show how terrifying and tragic the reality is for most of the refugees. Leaving the war zone has not lead to secure placement as they search for stability, acceptance, jobs, homes and the recreation of life for their family. Those watching the current refugee crisis will remind others that the world has faced such crisis before and will likely again.

For child protection in Canada, the vast majority of these newcomers will not become involved with that system. Some will for typically predictable reasons for the most part - challenges with coming to terms with parenting approaches, children whose trauma makes adjustment to school difficult leading to behavioural problems and emerging mental health concerns. We may hear about those stories as the media seeks to highlight families struggling.

Child protection and mental health services do have an important role. Helping families to understand Canada and the services available for the transition is top of mind. But there are also some important other steps - helping families connect with new communities; supporting economic connections; integrating children into schools; providing mental health supports at informal levels such that the emotional upheavals and challenges are normalized. Another role will be to help Canadians come to understand the newcomers and their experiences before arriving here.

Perhaps most importantly, is helping everyone realize that Canada has been accepting refugees for decades and done so successfully.

There will also be the challenges of ensuring that we do not lose our focus on vital public policy issues for child protection that need government funding and attention. Examples are the impact of homelessness and mental health for families of our veterans; ensuring that we implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and working with communities to reduce poverty that too often leads to neglect and child protection involvement. There is room for all of these agendas in Canada. The very worthy plight of the refugees has a prominent place on our national agenda but so do these other issues and yet others not mentioned here.