How to support and protect Ukrainian refugees in Ireland

A framework developed for social workers may be useful for host families and the public

As we welcome Ukrainian refugees to Ireland, the question of how we best support and protect the mostly women and children arriving here has to be examined seriously. Whilst providing a refuge from war and the basics of accommodation, food and medical help are the essential priorities, there is so much more to be considered.

This is evident from the dilemma over whether Garda vetting should be applied to all households hosting families and the real risk that there are people already waiting in the wings to exploit women and children.

A five-element framework recently developed for social workers may be a very useful resource for the members of the public who are so generously volunteering to accommodate refugees or contributing in other ways to supporting the families who have or who will soon arrive.

Duality of support and protection

We need to make sure those who are being supported are also protected from harm or risk of harm in the homes or communities in which they are housed.


Standards of protection from child abuse and domestic violence must not only be applied as needed but clearly communicated to families arriving so that from the outset, they know clearly of those protections.

A practical measure from Tusla would be the provision of brief, user-friendly guides, in Ukrainian and Russian, to all arriving families. It should also be on the home page of Tusla’s website. Information is not enough, though. All those involved in supporting the process of reception and settlement need to have a robust approach to monitoring the families placed, and host families should be open to such accountability.

It is massively generous of those putting up their homes in this way, but this does not take away responsibility and accountability for taking on, to some extent, the care and welfare of persons coming to live in the homes.

Life transitions and events

People often have the greatest need when they are going through changes in their lives or major events. Unfortunately, there are few greater life events than having to leave one’s country due to war, in a short period of time, and often leaving many loved ones behind. Moreover, people will have lost loved ones to death from the war and will be experiencing tremendous levels of grief and trauma, and complex emotions, for some time to come.

We can’t expect hosts to become psychologists and trauma counsellors, but sensitivity and awareness is crucial. We have in the past often made the mistake of engaging with refugees from the point of arrival without having taken the time to ask, “What happened to you?”

The provision of professional support to families and individuals will be crucial in the coming months and indeed possibly years. But for the public, and the host, sensitivity to the major life transition that has occurred, and an ability to empathise, will be so important.

Health and wellbeing

This is going to be an important area for response and everyone can probably do something here given this encompasses so many aspects for a basic quality of life. As well professional physical and mental health services, refugees will need basic health and wellbeing supports that are practical (eg pharmacy goods), emotional (eg supports and outlets to talk) and developmental (eg access for children to playgrounds and recreational opportunities). Communities can co-ordinate around this to ensure the health and wellbeing of refugees is maintained as well as it can be during this traumatic life event and transition.

Inter-generational relations

The individuals and families coming here are for the most part going to be separated from partners, grandparents, parents, relatives, friends. The impact of separation and loss might be supported with creative and proactive ways to assist in connecting back. One practical way is to provide access to phones, help with letter-writing, contacting embassies, advocating through international organisations and helping in any way possible to help reconnect families and loved ones.

Civic engagement and partnership

It is crucial that we all think about how we can enable young people and adults to participate in the communities they come to live in. We need to ensure that we learn from past, paternalistic, objectified responses to refugees and find ways to work together regarding how best communities, families and individuals can provide support and protection.

This framework stretches from the “micro” level – our day-to-day interactions – right through to our “macro” level of services and supports, which need to be flexible, responsive and co-ordinated to meet the additional needs of our new citizens. And when we think about this as global citizens, from a lifecourse perspective, it is so important we don’t lose the feelings of empathy and compassion evident now as the unusual and exceptional becomes another “new normal”.

Caroline McGregor is professor at the School of Political Science and Sociology and Pat Dolan holds the Unesco chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement at NUIG. They are the authors of Support and Protection Across the Lifecourse: A Practical Approach for Social Workers