Refugee children face numerous challenges associated with pre-migration trauma and post-migration adaptation. Much research pertaining to refugee children’s well-being focuses on psychiatric symptoms. Relatively few studies have examined how social context factors—such as perceptions of peer belonging, and support from adults at home and at school—contribute to the emotional health of refugee children. Informed by social–ecological theories emphasizing dynamic interactions between the contexts in which children develop, we examined associations between social context factors and emotional health in refugee children.
Data were drawn from a population-based data linkage in British Columbia, Canada. The analytic sample included 682 grade 4 students (Mage 9.2 years; 46.3% female) with a refugee background who responded to the Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) during the 2010/2011–2016/2017 school years. The MDI is a self-report survey of children’s social and emotional competencies and social context factors completed at school. Regression analyses were used to examine associations of social context factors (school climate, supportive adults at school and at home, and peer belonging) with indicators of emotional health (life satisfaction, self-concept, optimism, and sadness). Refugee generation status (first/second) was considered through stratification and testing of interactions with social context factors.
Perceived supportive school climate, support from adults in school and at home, and peer belonging were each independently associated with better emotional health. Results were similar for first- and second-generation children.
Taken together, results suggest a unique role of the school context to refugee children’s emotional health. School-based programming that promotes positive school climate can be considered as an important approach to support newcomer refugee children and their families.
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All inferences, opinions, and conclusions drawn in this study are those of the authors, and do not reflect the opinions or policies of the Data Steward(s).
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The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and The Child and Youth Refugee Research Coalition. Dr. Gadermann also gratefully acknowledges funding from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.
Conflict of interest
On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest. For transparency, note that license and administration fees are received by the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), University of British Columbia (UBC), for use of the Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI). These fees are assessed using a not-for-profit model whereby monies are returned to HELP, UBC, to assist in the continuing development of the MDI and to support operating costs associated with providing services to MDI partners. The co-authors affiliated with HELP, UBC, do not receive fees/royalties from the MDI. No other authors have any conflict of interest.
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Emerson, S.D., Gagné Petteni, M., Guhn, M. et al. Social context factors and refugee children’s emotional health. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 57, 829–841 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-021-02173-y