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Combining mental health and education best practices helps migrant children find their feet

The EU-funded REFUGE-ED project is redefining our approach to migrant children’s education, well-being and integration. Pilot initiatives in six EU Member States have already reduced school dropout rates and decreased classroom conflict. The project will help a new generation of citizens integrate into Europe, benefiting them and the wider community.

©Vasyl #374849081 source: 2023

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Evidence has shown that a significant number of migrant and refugee children do not have their basic educational and welfare needs met in Europe. With the growing numbers of asylum seekers and refugees worldwide, there is a demonstrated need for more effective educational and mental health practices across European schools and educational centres.

The REFUGE-ED project was launched to address this shortfall. “We want to promote the dynamic integration of children from recent migration cohorts, children of refugees and asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors in schools,” says Teresa Sordé Martí, coordinator of the project on behalf of the University of Barcelona in Spain. “We are convinced that education can protect and improve the mental health of refugee children if appropriately implemented. Access to quality education, emotional well-being and a sense of belonging are vital for their integration.”

Innovating for inclusion

Sordé Martí highlights the distinctiveness of the REFUGE-ED approach. “Our project is grounded in prior research, ensuring that our practices are already proven to address exclusion. These practices are rooted in successful educational actions and mental health and psychosocial support approaches,” she explains. These methods have already demonstrated their social impact in more than 10 000 centres all around the world.

REFUGE-ED’s innovation doesn’t stop there. By integrating education and mental health – two critical areas for inclusion – and promoting a dynamic two-way integration process, the project addresses both the needs of migrants and the broader societal context they’re entering.

Moreover, the REFUGE-ED initiative has pioneered a new method called the ‘dialogic co-creation process’ guided by seven principles: egalitarian dialogue, cultural intelligence, transformation of difficulties into possibilities, the instrumental dimension of education, creation of meaning, solidarity and equality of differences.

Through this collective approach, all stakeholders – children, families, teachers and communities – are given a say in the decision process.

Piloting change

To date, REFUGE-ED pilots have been carried out at 46 sites across six countries: Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Sweden. These pilot locations were strategically chosen to reflect the diverse migratory contexts of Europe, as well as both formal and non-formal education settings (i.e. refugee camps, reception centres, community centres).

“The project’s pilots underscore its capability in merging the educational and mental health facets essential for the well-being of migrant children,” adds Sordé Martí. She holds an optimistic view for the project’s societal impact, with preliminary results already showing a reduction in school dropouts, a boost in children’s future aspirations, and enhanced community relationships.

One standout success story comes from a pilot school in Spain, which saw a reduction in conflicts of over 60 % after implementing REFUGE-ED’s practices. Meanwhile, in Sweden, acknowledging and capitalising on migrant children’s cultural backgrounds has led to significant boosts in their self-esteem and engagement in learning activities.

“Our aim is not only to help these children, but to create a ripple effect that positively impacts their families, educators and the broader community,” Sordé Martí notes.

To ensure lasting change, the project is introducing the Brokering Knowledge Platform. It will be a central hub for knowledge exchange and the implementation of effective practices, which can all be implemented without any additional resources required.

The road ahead

With plans to seek additional funding and hopes to expand their effective practices to more regions, including areas such as northern Syria, the REFUGE-ED project looks set to leave an indelible mark on the landscape of migrant children’s education and well-being.

“Every child, irrespective of their background, has the right to learn in safety and grow to their full potential,” says Sordé Martí. “Through REFUGE-ED, we’re striving to make that vision a reality.”

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Project details

Project acronym
Project number
Project coordinator: Spain
Project participants:
Total cost
€ 2 997 830
EU Contribution
€ 2 997 830
Project duration

See also

More information about project REFUGE-ED

All success stories