Date: 03 Sep 2011

How Prior Social Ecologies Shape Family Resilience Amongst Refugees in U.S. Resettlement

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Refugee families bring with them family resources and strengths that can contribute to family resilience in the resettlement context. However, there is a need for inquiry and theory development concerning family resilience given the complexities posed by social, economic, and cultural transitions. This exploration of family resilience in refugee resettlement is based on research findings from an ethnographic study of 73 Liberian and Burundian refugee adolescents and their families in U.S. resettlement. The analysis found that overall, family resilience in resettlement has been shaped significantly by the refugee families’ prior living places, including those of their home country prewar and internment in the refugee camp. The majority of the family resilience processes seen in resettlement represent modifications of previously existing resilience processes, such as finding or building new churches, finding a living place like a refugee camp, and sharing parenting responsibilities with other parents. Several new family resilience processes were identified, such as learning to be more active parents, moving out of the city to find lower rent, and allowing wives and adolescents increased autonomy. Program leaders and policymakers should respond by developing resilience-based initiatives that better facilitate the modification of existing family resilience processes or the emergence of new processes.

This chapter discusses community factors that influence resilience. The authors discuss the experiences of refugee families during resettlement and how they overcome the multiple adversities that result from exposure to war, forced displacement, and long periods of internment in refugee camps and the stressful resettlement process that follows. Although the stressors are complex, the authors show that refugee families bring with them family and community resources that buffer the impact of resettlement. Their work builds on results from an ethnographic study of 73 Liberian and Burundian refugee adolescents in the US. Much of what predicts a family’s ability to cope depends on the capacity of its community to help the family find or build new churches, secure adequate living space, and share parenting responsibilities with other adults. The implications for policy and resettlement programs are discussed.