Creating Learning Opportunities for Young Refugee Children
Over the past few years, ISSA has partnered with the UNICEF Regional Office for CEE/CIS to improve learning and nurturing opportunities for vulnerable young children. ISSA's latest partnership focuses on children of refugee and migrant families in several transit and destination countries. It is in Germany where UNICEF, after entering a partnership with the Ministry for Families, Seniors, Women and Youth (BMFSF), is receiving technical support from ISSA. The plan is to establish child friendly spaces, firstly in two reception centers run by the German Red Cross in Berlin, then in 25 reception centers managed by the five main German welfare organizations across the country, and scaling up to 100 centers in total. One important concern is the wellbeing of from children 3-6 years old, which, due to serious shortages in KiTA places (daycare/Kindergarten) are loosing valuable development potential. Without a transition solution, they will be ill-prepared and even more disadvantaged when starting primary school. Reception centers often have playrooms for children, but those who manage these lack information on how to create and maintain a stimulating, safe, and supportive environment for play and learning. A particular challenge is the fact that staff trained in child development and early learning are either not available or in short supply. Therefore, many settings are supported by staff without training in child development, volunteers, and parents. Developing a training approach for such a diverse group on how to address the psychosocial and learning needs of this vulnerable group of children is the focus of the ISSA and UNICEF collaboration. In a first step, from June, 7th – 8th, ISSA trainers Zorica Trikic and Anke Krause piloted the newly developed training concept with the managers and staff of one of the pilot reception centers in Berlin. In a highly interactive training, they engaged staff around a new concept of children as curious learners, the importance of play, on using the playroom as the 'third pedagogue', and on how to support the acquisition of German, while helping children and their families cherish their family language. With the many interactive exercises and tasks, the participants were highly engaged in this training. However, due to their diverse training and professional experiences, and the very limited time available for training, it was evident that the training needs to be supported by very brief informative texts and tools to help staff manage the play and learning space. In addition, these tools must help staff provide guidance to the volunteers that are essential to the functioning of the refugee reception centers. These will be integrated into the training of trainers planned for next month.  Child friendly spaces include for example, mother-baby corners for privacy, interaction and play, and breastfeeding/feeding ; early learning opportunities for 3-6 year olds ; parenting information and support ; and after-school support for school children.