Working on the wellbeing of migrant children and their families

To help migrant children to thrive in new environments Pharos is delivering support to careers and teachers. Their efforts aim to both support children’s development, and to reduce inequalities.

By Anna de Haan and Karin Egelmeer


Children thrive when they have safe havens, both at home and in school. These safe havens are especially important for migrant children1. They need to get used to their new surroundings, deal with missing their old home, or process traumatic events. Children experience and manage these changes and experiences both at home and in school; both parents and teachers have an important role in the life of a child. To give migrant children the best start, Pharos, the Netherlands’ national expert centre on health inequalities, is focusing on the collaboration between parents and teachers. A good pedagogical climate with a focus on social-emotional development is essential to reduce health inequities among children.

Why focus on wellbeing in school?

Wellbeing is an important condition for pupils to be able to function and learn in an optimal manner. Working on social and emotional skills in school is of great importance to support wellbeing. These skills help children to develop competencies such as creativity, empathy and adaptability- essential skills in our fast-paced and complex society2.

Focusing on wellbeing is especially important for migrant children who are more likely to have experienced trauma. Moreover, they may experience poverty3 or language deficiency- these are important issues for children to be aware of. Teachers should pay attention to these matters and can play an important role in making children and their parents feel at home4. It is important that they work on resilience, safety and connection with these children and their families. Even when children do not speak the language, teachers can offer safety, structure, and a safe haven where children can express themselves. For parents, teachers can be a trusted third party. When parents and teachers establish a warm, trusting bond, they can contact each other in case there are any questions or issues.

Structural attention on wellbeing in school leads to various positive health outcomes5;

  • Pupils feel connected to the school.
  • Pupils experience less psychological health problems such as depression, fear and anxiety.
  • The chances of pupils portraying risk behaviour such as tantrums, violence, alcohol and drug abuse diminish.

Practical steps to progress

It is important to provide support to parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals. Schools in deprived neighbourhoods and attended by migrant children need particular support. Pharos is delivering this. It offers information and advice to schools, but also to other important stakeholders such municipalities.

Additionally, Pharos offers;

  • Information and training on working in a culturally sensitive manner. We, for instance, offer a report on working with youth and families in a culturally sensitive manner. We also offer materials on this matter for (para)medical education and a training for healthcare professionals in palliative care.
  • We support cultural mediators, who are usually a part of certain (migrant) communities. Therefore, they can advise and support parents conforming to their own culture;
  • We support parents in child-rearing by offering resources and expertise to (a.o.) volunteers, coordinators, coaches or buddies. For example, we offer an e-learning module about child-rearing support to refugee families..
  • We have made available two educational methods which teachers can use to work on the wellbeing of (migrant) children. These methods are called “World Travelers” (primary education) and “Welcome to School” (secondary education).
  • We offer information materials, training and advice to healthcare, education and municipal professionals to support migrant families in an optimal way. We do this by developing factsheets, methods, publications and information materials. We, for instance, have two factsheets on child-rearing support to non-western migrants and refugee families, and accessible child-rearing support on handling media.
  • And much more.

Do you want to know more about Pharos and our work with migrant children and their families? Feel free to contact Anna de Haan, senior advisor and project leader migrant and refugee youth.



[1] Every child who has migrated to the Netherlands – with or without being exposed to war.

[2] Zonderop, Y. 09-05-2019. Het onderwijs dreigt zijn doel en relevantie te verliezen. Interview met OESO directeur Andreas Schleicher. De groene Amsterdammer,.

[3] Migrant children are more likely to grow up in deprived neighborhoods in the host country. 93% of the children living in deprived neighborhoods has problems in school. In average neighborhoods, 59% has these problems. (Ongelijke kansen in het onderwijs. ABN AMRO Foundation Seminar 2019).

[4] Tuk, B., Vlietstra, I. 2017. Wereldreizigers. Methode sociaal-emotionele ontwikkeling voor nieuwkomers op de basisschool. Pharos.

[5] Weare, K. 2015. What works in promoting social and emotional well-being and responding to mental health problems in school? Partnership for well-being and Mental Health in Schools.

Anna de Haan
Senior Advisor and Project Leader at Pharos | + posts

Dr. Anna de Haan is a senior advisor and project leader. At Pharos, she works to improve the health of migrant and refugee families and unaccompanied refugee minors (URMs). Furthermore, she focuses on the wellbeing of migrant and refugee children in school, and youth mental health care.

Karin Egelmeer
Communications Advisor at Pharos | + posts

Karin Egelmeer is a communications advisor at Pharos. She supports various programmes, such as “Growing up healthy”, “Healthy in…” and “Healthy ageing”.

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