Journal of International Migration and Integration

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 1181–1202 | Cite as

Cultural Brokering with Syrian Refugee Families with Young Children: An Exploration of Challenges and Best Practices in Psychosocial Adaptation

  • Sophie YohaniEmail author
  • Anna Kirova
  • Rebecca Georgis
  • Rebecca Gokiert
  • Teresa Mejia
  • Yvonne Chiu


This study examined the challenges and critical psychosocial needs of Syrian refugee families with young children in Western Canada, and the role of cultural brokering in facilitating their psychosocial adaptation. Using a community-based participatory research approach and an adapted critical incident method, the study involved nine Arabic-speaking cultural brokers who were working with Syrian refugee families using holistic supports during early resettlement. Data collected through focus groups and semi-structured interviews are presented in five illustrative case studies, and reveal that Syrian families struggled with feeling safe and secure in Canada, adjusting to the changing roles in the family, and trying to find meaning in their lives. These struggles were attributed to families’ overall challenges navigating various domains of integration (i.e., health, social services, and education), resulting in a heavy reliance on cultural brokers for social linking and bonding activities (Ager & Strang, Journal of Refugee Studies, 21, 166–191, 2008), including connecting families to needed supports and helping family members build relationships with one another. Challenges faced by families mapped onto the five psychosocial needs of Silove’s (Intervention, 11, 237–248, 2013) Adaptation after Persecution and Trauma (ADAPT) conceptual framework as well as most of the core domains of Ager and Strang’s (Journal of Refugee Studies, 21, 166–191, 2008) Social Integration framework. This study provides evidence for the use of both of these frameworks in further studies involving Syrian refugee populations; they proved useful for understanding how families, over time, can develop necessary skills to engage on their own in linking activities with various Canadian institutions and bridging activities with communities at large.


Psychosocial adaptation Refugees Refugee families Refugee children Cultural brokers Psychological Trauma Social integration Refugee health Community-based participatory research Critical incidents 



The authors wish to acknowledge the support received by Social Sciences Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for this research project. The authors also wish to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of the partner organizations for the research project, and most of all, the contributions of the cultural brokers who devoted many hours of their valuable time to participate in this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sophie Yohani
    • 1
    Email author
  • Anna Kirova
    • 2
  • Rebecca Georgis
    • 3
  • Rebecca Gokiert
    • 4
  • Teresa Mejia
    • 4
  • Yvonne Chiu
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Elementary EducationUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  3. 3.Bath Spa UniversityBathUK
  4. 4.Faculty of ExtensionUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  5. 5.Multicultural Health Brokers CooperativeEdmontonCanada

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