Understanding the Support Available to Refugee Children and their Families
University of Bath: Sarah Halligan (PI)
University of Bristol: Laura Howe
Cardiff University: Nina Maxwell
University of Exeter: Anke Karl
There are approximately 37 million forcibly displaced children worldwide, many of whom have been exposed to significant trauma prior to leaving their home country and whilst journeying to their new home. Refugee children also face significant challenges when they arrive in a new country, with many facing a period of time living in camps or other settings where they are at risk of further trauma. Unsurprisingly, refugee children show high rates of mental disorders. Understanding how mental health outcomes can be improved for this particularly vulnerable group is essential.
Social support can be a major protective factor for trauma-exposed children, being associated with reduced risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental disorders. However, refugee children face profound erosion of their support structures. Their caregivers are often experiencing extreme stress relating to the multitude of complex challenges refugees routinely face, and/or suffering with significant mental health problems themselves. Refugee children frequently lose their wider support networks due to separation from peers, extended families, and other sources of support (e.g., teachers). Moreover, refugee children often find themselves unwelcome in their host countries, with cultural/language barriers being obstacles to forming new social networks, and negative attitudes towards them leading to exclusion or active victimisation. Each of these factors may maintain or increase child distress.
Our goal is initiate research that can ultimately inform how refugee children can be supported effectively, with a particular focus on the opportunities provided by informal sources of support and the barriers to receiving such support. We aim to initiate pilot work with refugee families across 2-3 international contexts, conducting preliminary qualitative interviews with refugee parents and, if possible, with children themselves, which will provide key capacity building opportunities and inform the direction of subsequent larger scale research.