Refugees will all have experienced trauma. Here’s how to provide good trauma-informed care to those you are helping.



Top Tips for Creating Physical Safety

  • Help people meet basic needs for food and shelter, and obtain emergency medical attention. Provide repeated, simple, and accurate information on how to get these basic needs met.

  • Know what resources are available in your area for those who have experienced a disaster. Identify concrete needs and attempt to help. 

  • Encourage them to register as soon as they can, so they can access support and resources (click here for Refugee Registration Information).

  • Do whatever you can to ensure they feel physically safe and their treasured belongings are safe. Show them locks on doors/windows, and if possible provide a secure space to protect belongings.

  • Remove all potential symbols of war such as ornamental guns, swords, military helmets etc from your home, as these may be triggering for those arriving. Try to create a quiet space; consider providing ear plugs to help them deal with auditory triggers.

  • Reassure and comfort them often. Remind them regularly, “You are safely out of the situation of war; you have got this far.  Well done!”

Top Tips for Creating Emotional Safety

  • Validate their experience as real, and having happened. Remind them often that they are safe, and what they are feeling is normal.  “What’s happening to you is a completely normal response to a completely abnormal situation.”

  • Validate their feelings.  Intense fear, helplessness and horror are common responses. Remember there are no “right” or “wrong” feelings.

  • Don’t ask lots of questions about their experiences. It is much better to offer emotional support by simply being present and listening. The burden is, somehow, shared. 

  • Help them connect with others.  Encourage them to keep in touch with loved ones and to develop links with others in the same situation. Connect them with local church communities or with their relevant religious community.

  • Offer accurate information about the disaster or trauma and the relief efforts underway to help them understand the situation.

  • Promote calm by sharing simple breathing and grounding exercises (for example, breathing in slowly for 4 counts, out for 4 counts, or asking what can you see/feel/hear/smell?). The app BreathBall is a useful resource.

  • Involve people in making their own simple decisions around practical matters. Helping people with problem-solving reminds them of their own strengths and abilities. Don’t make decisions for them; involve them in making small decisions, and put major decisions on hold as much as possible.

Top Tips for Listening Well

  • Listen!  Do not push people to share their stories, but be available to listen!  People in crisis cannot absorb teaching and preaching, but you may wish to offer to pray for or with your guest.

  • Listen to people who wish to share their stories and emotions and remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel. A good listener asks helpful questions, lets people speak at their own pace, shows that he or she is listening, and respects the healing process.

  • Children must be allowed to ask questions.  Make space for them to be able to voice what they are feeling. They will need help with this (through art, play, etc.) Be honest, but avoid sharing too much frightening information with them.

  • Convey expectancy and hope that they will recover. Help people understand that it is normal to grieve what they have experienced and lost and that it is a process that will take time.  Be patient with the recovery time. 

  • Maintain hope.  It is better to give hope than quick solutions.  Focus on the hope that no matter what you are going through, God is right there with you!

Top Tips for Attending to Trauma

  • Remember that trauma can affect people in different ways. Traumatic stress tends to evoke two emotional extremes: feeling either too much (overwhelmed) or too little (numb).  It may look like hypervigilance, extreme emotions and reactions, muteness, indecision, a fight/flight/freeze response, difficulty sleeping, or being unable to put words to thoughts.

  • Remain aware of and sensitive to the likelihood of previous trauma (for instance, sexual assault or abuse, or institutionalisation) as this may increase negative response or distress.

  • Operate from a foundation of love.  Openness and willingness to walk alongside people in the challenges of life is part of being a follower of Jesus.  Be aware of your own fears and biases to marginalize mental illness or see problems as entirely spiritual.

  • Consider the whole person, and ways this trauma is hurting wholeness. Trauma impacts people psychologically, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are empowered by God’s Spirit to care for people as a whole.

  • Be friendly and compassionate even when people are being difficult. Understand that people who have experienced trauma do not always react or behave in ways we expect. Instead of thinking “why are you acting like this?”, it is more helpful to think “what has happened to you to cause you to react like this?” 

  • Take a break if you feel yourself becoming stressed by challenging behaviour: go for a walk, sit with the Lord, or develop strategies that help you manage your own stress.

  • Know your limits, and seek help if it feels beyond what you can manage. By being ‘trauma-informed’, you are creating a safe place for people to begin to heal; often more specialised support is required to recover fully from deep trauma.

Top Tips for People in Trauma

  • Limit your consumption of news. Reduce the amount of news you watch and/or listen to, and engage in relaxing activities to help you heal.

  • Get enough “good” sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, only go to bed when you are ready to sleep, and don’t use cell phones or laptops in bed. If you wake up and can’t fall back to sleep, try writing what’s on your mind in a journal or on a sheet of paper.

  • Establish and maintain a routine. Try to eat meals at regular times and get an adequate amount of rest. Include a positive or fun activity in your schedule that you can look forward to each day or week. Schedule exercise into your daily routine as well, if possible.

  • Avoid making major life decisions. Trauma affects our capacity to think. It is important to be involved in making small decisions, but delay making major life decisions until you are out of the initial crisis period.

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (make meals ‘colourful’). Complex B vitamin supplements can help fight stress, and a daily pro-biotic will help combat depression. Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption.

  • Stay connected to other people. We gain strength and support from being in community and connecting with others.

Top Tips for Carers

  • Make sure you have support. Caring for people who have experienced trauma is challenging, and can often bring back memories of our own past trauma.

  • Debrief with someone your trust. Find someone you can feel safe to express how you are being affected by what you are seeing and hearing. Lean on your faith community for support.

  • Meet together with others also helping refugees to share and pray for each other. Create connections with others in a similar situation: have a barbecue or meal together with other host families, or a playdate for refugee children.

  • Be aware of your own limitations.  You’re (probably) not a trained psychotherapist with unlimited time to counsel your guests. Know who you can go to for help – for yourself, and for your guests.  Who/what are the resources around you?

  • Prioritise time for yourself. Go for a walk, spend time with friends, journal – whatever you enjoy doing. You can find some great ideas for self-care here.

Top Tips for Caring for Children Exposed to Trauma

  • Stay Calm. Always. Children will copy the adults around them. If they are feeling anxious and overwhelmed they need you to be calm and consistent. Be aware of your voice tone, body language etc.

  • Be aware of where you are at and what you can cope with. Self care is critical. Know when you need a break or when you need help.

  • Understand that each child will process the trauma differently. Do not expect a one size fits all formula. Taking time to build trust and connection is important.

  • Create a sense of safety as a priority. That could mean showing them around their new environment, explaining often that they are safe.  Remember that predictability can go a long way to creating that sense for a child. It could be as  simple as mealtimes at regular times.

  • Ensure they are hydrated and nourished. Trauma affects children’s brains and bodies. If their bodies are needing to be fueled they can become dysregulated quickly and behaviors can escalate. Offer a drink and healthy snack regularly if possible; this is a great way to build connection too.

  • Play not only builds connection with children, but creates opportunity for physical movement –  which is vital for helping children regulate behaviors and stay calm. Play can help to disarm some of their fears and anxieties. Let them choose the play where possible.

  • Give voice to the child. This can be very affirming in many ways. Allowing them to express their  concerns, ask questions and even having choices can reestablish a sense of control in the chaos.

  • Meet their needs. Remember that ‘behaviors’ are often an unmet need being expressed. It may take some effort and time to understand but it will pay off.

  • It’s okay to not have all the answers. Sometimes just being present and calm is all that’s needed.

  • Balance structure and nurture. Always seek to establish safety and boundaries but genuine care and warmth will be felt by the child.

Tips to Support Women who have Experienced Sexual Violence

  • Always listen, believe and support survivors.  Never put them in the same room with the perpetrator to talk it out. You are there to support them, not to resolve the situation.
  • Receiving quality medical care within 72 hours can prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections, and within 120 hours can prevent other serious health complications.
  • Offer the national hotlines, hospital information, and language specific services to survivors to provide further support.
  • Let the survivor make their own choices. Ask the survivor for permission before connecting them to anyone else.
  • For a survivor-centered approach, practice respect, safety, confidentiality, and non-discrimination. Avoid any type of language that blames the victim for what has happened.
  • Protect the identity and safety of a survivor. Do not write down, take pictures or verbally share any personal/identifying information about a survivor or their experience.


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