Lost Childhood: WSU team chosen to lead state’s Conflict Trauma Technical Assistance for School Districts project

A group of WSU professors will be helping refugee students cope with trauma and stress after being chosen to partner with the State of Michigan’s Refugee Services for a two-year, half million dollar project. The Conflict Trauma Technical Assistance for School Districts project will be led by Viktor Burlaka, associate professor, School of Social Work; Holly Feen-Calligan, associate professor, College of Education; and Arash Javanbakht, associate professor, School of Medicine’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences.

Michigan's Refugee Services provide refugees with the resources they need to rebuild their lives in order to survive, thrive, and contribute.

Grant PI headshots
From left: School of Social Work Associate Professor Viktor Burlaka, College of Education Associate Professor Holly Feen-Calligan, and School of Medicine Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences Associate Professor Arash Javanbaknt

“Our team will primarily work with six intermediate school districts most recently/heavily impacted by the arrival of new students in Michigan. We will be developing strategies on the best ways to reach out to them. Our goal is to help them prepare mechanisms that will effectively engage children and families,” said Burlaka.

The team hopes to provide educators with culturally appropriate tools they can use to intervene in cases involving children affected by war/conflict trauma.

All children are vulnerable, however, when children flee the war, they may have lost their homes, toys, friends, and family members. They have learned life experiences that cannot be unlearned, and memories that cannot be forgotten. I am thankful for the opportunity to use my experiences and knowledge to give these children a sense of stability, predictability, happiness, and hope. – Social Work Associate Professor Viktor Burlaka

While it’s hard to assess the scope of the project, Burlaka said about 1,000 Ukraine refugee children are headed to Michigan, and there are thousands of Afghan families living here. According to Dr. Michael Rice, State Superintendent, “Each year, school districts across Michigan serve more than 16,000 immigrant students in K-12 public schools.” (Michigan.gov)

Some of the services the team will provide include:

  • Education and training on how trauma impacts learning and social integration
  • Program development
  • Facilitating connections with preferred therapists
  • Consultation and assistance with grant writing
  • Recommendations for classroom-based and after school activities
  • Feedback listening sessions and data collection/assessment

“We know the impacts that war and conflict have on young people. The Office of Global Michigan wants to aid in harnessing the full potential of, and provide lasting supports for, our new students. By collaborating with our most heavily impacted intermediate school districts and Wayne State University, we will accomplish just that. We are excited to partner with Wayne State on this important work,” said Ben Cabanaw, state refugee coordinator and administrative manager for the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Opportunity.

Author: Laura Hipshire laurahipshire@wayne.edu

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