Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the Child Refugees of the 1930s in the UK: History Informing the Future

Anita Grosz, Stephanie Homer, Andrea Hammel

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Abstract

In response to recent studies and discussions on the social and psychological support being made available to young refugees today, this study will investigate the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) of child refugees who fled from National Socialist Europe to the UK in the late 1930s. Many of these refugees settled in the UK after the Second World War and have lived here ever since. This cohort provides us with the opportunity to look at the long-term consequences of their childhood experiences.

This report will examine the impact of this forced dislocation on their adult lives, as well as identify the protective factors that enabled these children to adjust to life in the UK, which, in turn, minimised the likelihood of long-term harmful behaviours associated with ACEs. This study aims to provide enlightening historic context that will aid contemporary research and hopes to inform future strategies which are being developed to support young sanctuary seekers today.
A significant proportion of child refugees who reached the UK in the 1930s (both with and without other family members) have recorded their experiences either in interviews or in written form. This study will take advantage of these sources to investigate the impact of ACEs on this group of children and to identify the protective factors that encouraged resilience during this challenging and formative period. Several factors that promote resilience have been noted in a recent 2020 report by Public Health Wales: individual factors (the ability to think positively); family factors (positive attachment); and community factors (friendships, school, good community resources).

This report shows that there are several common factors that made a positive difference to the child refugees, although it is crucial to remember that each experience was unique. For example, in an educational environment, relationships with supportive teachers who had a good understanding of the refugee experience is shown to enable acceptance from peers. In the case of unaccompanied child refugees, our research points to the importance of different types of placements to be chosen bearing in mind the age, situation, religion and cultural background of the individual child refugee. Many benefitted from a connection with other refugees whilst finding their own feet in British society, as this connection helped combat isolation and alienation. Our research shows that stability during this acculturation process is important.

Our study also suggests that the most positive outcomes in mitigating the effects of ACEs in child refugees is to aim for “supported independence” and open communication regarding traumatic experiences. The refugees need to be given safe spaces to discuss their experiences at the time as children, and also later in life, as adults. This points to the crucial role of active, preventative mental health support, even if no actual mental illness has manifested itself.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherPrifysgol Aberystwyth | Aberystwyth University
Commissioning bodyACE Response
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2020

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