Homes for Ukraine: how to support Ukrainian guests in your home
Last updated 21 September 2022
Head of psychosocial and mental health at the British Red Cross, Dr Sarah Davidson, shares her advice for hosts supporting Ukrainian refugees, from building routines to connecting communities.
Amid heartbreaking scenes of families torn apart and cities under siege, there has been an outpouring of support for the people of Ukraine.
Within days of launching, more than 130,000 British people signed up to the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme, which matches Ukrainian nationals with sponsors in the UK for a minimum of six months.
Some refugees are known to their sponsors, while others aren’t. But whether they’re a friend, family member, or complete stranger, it’s likely that they’ll need time and space to process all they’ve been through.
So how can hosts offer support beyond a safe place to stay?
Dr Sarah Davidson, British Red Cross’ head of psychosocial and mental health , provides some guidance.
What might guests be going through?
“When people first arrive in the UK, they may feel frightened, disorientated and struggle to cope with their new surroundings. They’re also likely to be making sense of what they have experienced, says Sarah.
People fleeing war may have witnessed terrible things. They may have seen v
They may have had to leave friends, family and their belongings behind, including pets. Children may not have been in education for very many weeks.
And there may have been threats and violence – including sexual violence – on the journey to the UK.
“War brings violence, uncertainty, trauma and terror. The experience of being in a conflict situation, and the huge effort involved in fleeing are likely to result in a range of physical and psychological responses”, says Sarah.
“These may appear immediately afterwards as well as in the days, months and years that follow.
“As a sponsor of a displaced family or individual, you are not expected to be a professional in trauma or mental health,” Sarah says.
“But there are things we can all do to help create the most welcoming environment in which people can try to heal from their experiences.”
Understand that people experience trauma differently
Even after the immediate danger has passed, many people will struggle to feel safe.
“Reactions may include shock, grief, anger, upset, exhaustion and difficulties returning to any semblance of normal routines, including sleeping and eating.”
“Others may be withdrawn, disengaged or find it difficult to make friends.
“One of the easiest ways to help people feel supported is to listen to them and what they need.
“They may wish to share what’s happened to them, or they may just want to try and move forward with their lives, find work, and get involved in the community,” says Sarah.
“Trying not to make too many demands on people who have had highly traumatic experiences is vital. Instead, creating space and acknowledging that some of the challenges may be ongoing can be helpful.”
It's very important to avoid asking for details which may trigger traumatic experiences. Instead, focus more on the here and now to establish physical and psychological safety in the present.
Make people feel comfortable in your home
“Most people prioritise their safety and that of their families. By hosting guests in your home, you are already facilitating that.
“Promoting your guest’s dignity will help them start to feel safe. This can take time and is best seen as a process,” explains Sarah.
She says that sponsors could start by asking their guests what would make them feel safer and offer a place to lock away their personal possessions.
She also advises that hosts discuss the way space is used within the home, allowing for connection and friendships but also privacy when needed.
“Be clear about what choices they have, such as being free to rearrange a room, what and when to eat, and where and when to sleep.
Finally, she says that giving guests access to accurate, timely information will also help them feel safer and more in control.
“The welfare of friends and loved ones back in Ukraine will be at the forefront of people’s minds.
"Being unable to make contact and feel assured about their safety could cause great distress, so phone and internet access is vital.”
Connecting with communities
Connection to the community, inclusion and access to peer support from others can also help someone trying to overcome adversity and trauma.
“When they feel ready, it may help to connect your guests with people they have shared a bond with, such as through a pre-existing relationship or someone with whom they have shared similar experiences,” said Sarah.
Hosts could search for local Ukrainian community groups or refugee charities online. The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain is another excellent starting point.
Asking guests whether they have any hobbies or interests or belong to any religious groups will also help them feel more connected.
Connecting with others may be particularly helpful for children who still have particular needs related to their developmental stage.
“They need access to play and different ways of expressing themselves, for example, through drawing.
“It’s important to remember that children and young people who have experienced significant trauma often regress, acting in ways as if they are younger than they are, such as needing more contact and cuddles,” she said.
“This is a normal response to abnormal situations and should be supported with understanding.
“It is also important to protect them from further triggers, such as detailed news stories and images that remind them of their recent experiences.”
Cultural differences can make people feel isolated and your guests are likely to feel disoriented by the different systems for healthcare, education and employment.
Offer them practical support, such as setting up a bank account, and helping them register with a school, GP and dentist.
People newly arrived in the UK are likely to have very little knowledge of the local area. Hosts can empower newly arrived people by helping them navigate the town or city in which they live and providing practical tools such as public transport options, local guides, and directions to job centres, libraries and places of interest.
This will improve confidence in exploring and facilitate the opportunity to make connections in and with the local area, which will then support their language development, possible employment and sense of belonging in the wider community.
“Focusing on practical, ‘normal’ concerns, can help people feel more in control, empowered and independent,” said Sarah.
Looking after your own emotional wellbeing
“Whenever we offer support to others, it’s important to check that we are in a good-enough place to do this and have our own support in place so we are able to be as helpful as possible and avoid causing harm (to others and ourselves),” said Sarah.
“Being prepared means anticipating what might go well and not so well, where further information and resources exist that we and others can draw on, and how we might respond when there are stresses, difficulties and challenges.
The British Red Cross uses the CALMER framework, to remind those offering support to be calm. By being calm we are better able to think and plan. Being calm also helps us to be in a better place to listen and hear what types of support others would find most helpful.
CALMER also reminds us of six sequential steps which guide us through how to provide support.
C- Consider needs and risks
A – Acknowledge diversity in people’s needs, understanding and preferences
L – Listen with empathy
M – Manage situations to promote dignity and respect
E – Enable contact with supportive others
R – Resource through the provision of information and
Remember your own needs.
“The six stages start and finish with ourselves. To start we should consider the needs and risks that we are likely to encounter for ourselves, the situation and those we are offering support to. At the end, we should remind ourselves of our own needs and how to meet these. Doing this will enable our ongoing capacity. The CALMER process may be repeated many times.
“By considering these we can anticipate challenges and problem solve to enable our readiness to respond effectively.
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