Croydon refugee child

By - Thursday 11th May, 2017

How a refugee child in Croydon is being helped to fulfil her potential

I wrote an article for the Croydon Citizen after the recent attack on asylum seeker Reker Ahmed in which I made a link between poor or incomplete childhood development and the violent aggressive behaviour of his attackers. The article provoked a strong response. I was particularly struck by this comment: “There you go, insulting the underprivileged again. Lack of education/opportunities = violence? The victim (Reker Ahmed) also lacks privilege and education – that’s why he came to the UK. Is he feral too?”

I work in Croydon in the field of childhood development. Right now I am working with a refugee family whose daughter has been diagnosed with learning difficulties. The problems that this family faces in helping their daughter to develop are sadly shared by many families in this country. I do not see this so much as a lack of support for some groups which others have in abundance, but rather as the absence of support for children’s development in the UK regardless of background.

My view is that our education system omits to monitor childhood development as it should. As a result, certain problems go uncorrected. The out-of-control aggression that we saw in Shrublands is one result, but in my opinion there are many others. Our education system is failing so many of the children in the UK.

The family faces the challenge of learning fluent English

The mother was desperate at our first meeting. She had been told that her daughter had learning difficulties and that this was a permanent condition, but was sure that her daughter had correctable problems and was seeking a solution.

All members of the family also face a common challenge in acquiring fluent English. Their native tongue uses a different sound range to that of English, and, as we all do, they have ‘tuned in’ to their first language. As a result, the mother tends to block out many of the sounds of English. As a specialist in what is called ‘sound processing’ (which is different from simply hearing: sound processing is about how input from the ear is received by the brain) I believe that this problem is correctable, but for now it makes her spoken English difficult to follow, which in turn impacts on her employability and her ability to provide for her family.

I know that there is no money to pay for professional support

The girl who is my client is going to be affected by the stress that her main caregiver is experiencing. Then, compounding these problems, is the trauma of the family’s experience as refugees. They have struggled to get into the UK and lived a life in fear and anxiety. The child has been traumatised in her own right, and further traumatised by her mother’s trauma. She also has identifiable problems with her motor skills development and coordination.

All the factors that I detect which are causing problems for this family are, in my opinion, treatable, but I know that accessing professional support is a real challenge. I also know that getting funding from the local authority through the education health care plan can require more effort than sorting out the actual problems. There is also the risk of further emotional harm in fighting through the whole EHCP process for a child already affected by her mother’s extreme anxiety. Seeking funding from charities is also a long-winded mission with delays and uncertainty.

The mother sits in front of me, a really good woman who will work hard with me to support her children’s development. The three children are just lovely; they all have some motor skills problems.

Of course I started working with the mother to show her how to address some of the issues that she is facing, and helped her to begin specialist sound therapy. It will be a long journey, but a lot cheaper for the public purse than not doing it.

These are real people in Croydon, lovely children with a strong, caring mother who just wants her children to develop into independent adults. They are no different from any of us. I will re-screen this child about every half-term and monitoring her development. I intend to write again for the Citizen to document her progress as she receives the support and help that she needs.

Charlotte Davies

Charlotte Davies

I am an Educational Consultant, Director of Fit 2 Learn CIC, Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. My teaching experience has covered Economics and Business Education including Enterprise; I have worked as a senior teacher. I now work to identify the root causes of educational under-achievement.

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  • Teresa Gil

    This is a insightful article which brings home the reality of some of the difficulties of surviving in a foreign country and it is wonderful the family mentioned are getting support. However, I disagree that it is the failing education system that contributes to out of control aggression. The education system can only do so much to monitor childhood development and cannot be responsible for violent children/teenagers. The main responsibility lies with their own families. Outside of their families, their living environments which include peer pressure will be significant but this is outside of the control of schools. Schools can educate but they cannot give children the love, guidance, boundaries and security of a family needed for healthy emotional and cognitive development i.e. schools cannot be responsible for bringing up children.

    • Charlotte Davies

      It takes a village to bring up a child and yes everyone has their role to play. However, in our village at present testing obscure bits of grammatical knowledge has far more weight than checking that every child has basic development in place. This week we have families stressing about grammar, but absolutely no-one is checking whether the children are working in double vision or can process the words that they hear – that creates massive stress and frustration in some of the learners…some cope in silence, others kick off. Poor parenting is also not helped when the parent struggles to process and so one generation begets another; but we have to find solutions for everyone not just condemn.

      • Teresa Gil

        Of course! I would have thought it fundamental that any barriers to learning are identified and helped as far as possible. My mother was a single, immigrant parent that suffered deafness and therefore struggled to learn English so I can fully identify with the case you have brought up. That some children ‘kick off’ in frustration is normal if they cannot verbalise the difficulties they are experiencing whether its a language barrier and/or learning difficulty. But I really cannot see how this links to the sort of violence we saw in Shrublands.

        • Charlotte Davies

          Children in the years from 0 to 7 or 8 years of age are at a stage where they should be developing the skills to see the world as a whole i.e. they are integrating their motor skills; their sound processing and vision. This is a hugely complex process in a human as we need to be able to do complex things like differentiate between left and right, and move smoothly from left to right sides of our body; also learn and understand our language’s sounds which does not fully develop until 7 years of age (Dodd et al 2003); and learn to use two eyes together so that they can send equal messages to our brain so that we can start to learn “see” patterns. When all of these factors come together we can make sense of the world as a whole, we can sequence, we can see the consequences of our actions. If you are actually deaf or lose vision or a limb in many ways that is better – the brain rewires and it is quite common for blind people, for example to develop echo-location i.e. they know where they are by sound. In the UK there are a lot of people in the situation that they have all the correct physiology, but it needs to be nudged into action that is obvious from the low educational outcomes and the very long tail of low ability. If there has been a problem in our development then we will not be able to see the world as a whole – we will be trapped at a development stage below that of an 8 year old. This situation can be quite difficult to live with and make people quite frightened or short-tempered – they are told that they can do everything if they try, but they really cannot, so overtime develop a range of behaviours to cover up the problem. Aggressive bravado in groups humiliating others is in that range – they learnt to do it in school to cover up their humiliation and shame. Humans long to belong to a group it is absolutely fundamental; if you cannot belong to the winning team then best to belong to a big gang where you feel one of the crowd, safe in the team. Our prisons are full of people with learning difficulties – inside they are crying; but they don’t know why they find life so hard and no-one checks whether they have double vision, or can sound process efficiently or even know where their limbs are in space. We have to care and help everyone sort out their developmental issues however unlovable they seem because inside there is a child who really does want to be part of a civilised society – if nothing else it is a lot cheaper and safer in the long-term.