Image credit: The Child and Youth Refugee Research Coalition (CYRRC)



Loss and protracted family separation among refugee children and youth: examining post-migration impacts and service needs

AUTHORS    Akm Alamgir, Serena Nude, Amjed Abojedi, Kwame McKenzie, Brenda Roche, Michaela Hynie, Manolli Ekra, Branka Agic

LOCATION   National


Globally, the number of children and youth “unaccompanied” or “separated” from their families due to forced migration and war is increasing. But, there’s little evidence on how this loss and separation is affecting the wellbeing of this population and their post-migration settlement. This research combined findings from a literature review and interview data from refugee youth and service providers to describe the impacts of family loss and separation on refugee youth. Mental health challenges are common among this population with posttraumatic stress disorder being the most prevalent mental health concern, followed by depression and anxiety. The researchers created resources for service providers, policymakers, and researchers to better support children and youth separated from their families.

How does this research apply to my work?

One of the pillars in promoting mental wellbeing is reducing risk factors and strengthening protective ones. Since the prevalence of PTSD is high within this population, the article identified risk and protective factors that increase or reduce PTSD. Issues that intensify PTSD are: feelings of guilt and shame, social isolation, low literary level and living in reception centres for adults - youth in adult centres had higher levels of psychological distress symptoms than those placed in youth reception centres. Protective factors include social support and help navigating systems such as housing, refugee claims and taxes, supportive programs such as mentorship, recreational activities and arts-based programs and trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy.

What should I take away from this research?

The authors provided multi-level recommendations on what needs to be done to enhance the wellbeing and meet the post migration settlement needs of refugee youth separated from their families:

  • Improve access to healthcare – particularly mental health care – and allow youth to access services in their preferred language
  • Make services accessible in terms of price, availability, and language and use of trauma-informed approaches; be conscious of the diversity among refugee youth.
  • Assist with education related barriers by providing guidance on post-secondary program and application information
  • Employment services need to go beyond resume and interview preparation and focus on integrating refugee youth into the Canadian workforce. Policies aimed at protecting refugee youth from exploitation in the workplace need to be strengthen and enforced.

What’s the next step?

The research team prepared a resource list of services for refugee youth in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, and services available nationally. The list was developed by the research team and participating refugee youth, their guardians, service providers, and staff from relevant community organizations. The resource list will help refugee youth and service providers identify services and how to connect with those services.

In addition, a toolkit with resources for conducting research with refugee youth was created and a policy document was compiled by a refugee peer-researcher and a law professional to advocate for changes to Canadian policy regarding refugees. The document provides evidence-informed policy recommendations.

To find these resources, access the research, and listen to a story about the challenges of a refugee youth, click here 

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