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Emotional and behavioural problems amongst Afghan unaccompanied asylum-seeking children: results from a large-scale cross-sectional study


Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) are considered at high risk for mental health problems, yet few studies focus on single ethnic populations. This study presents results from the largest Afghan UASC mental health survey in the UK. Specifically, the study aims to estimate the prevalence of emotional and behavioural problems and to investigate the associations of these problems with demographic variables, cumulative traumatic events, and care and migration variables. A census sample of 222 Afghan UASC was interviewed using validated self-report screening measures. Emotional and behavioural problems were screened using the Hopkins Symptoms Checklist 37A (HSCL-37A). Pre-migration stressful life events were screened using the Stressful Life Events Questionnaire. Administrative data on care and asylum were provided by the local authority social services and the UK Border Agency. Approximately one-third (31.4 %) scored above cut-offs for emotional and behavioural problems, 34.6 % for anxiety and 23.4 % for depression. Ordinary least squares regression indicated a significant dose–response relationship between total pre-migration traumatic events and distress as well as between increased time in the country and greater behavioural problems. Compound traumatic events in the pre-migration stages of forced migration have a deleterious association with UASC well-being. Increased time in country suggests a possible peer effect for these children. Consistent with other studies on refugee children, it should be stressed that the majority of UASC scored below suggested cut-offs, thus displaying a marked resilience despite the experience of adverse events.

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    There is further research suggesting that there are potentially another 2,000 separated young people who claim asylum every year whose age is disputed by the government and are therefore not documented in the UASC statistics [37].


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This study was funded by the John Fell Oxford University Fund Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children Project. A special debt of gratitude goes to Lindsay Shepard for all her care and assistance with the data collection, to the dedicated team of social workers and interpreters, and to all the young people.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Israel Bronstein.

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Bronstein, I., Montgomery, P. & Ott, E. Emotional and behavioural problems amongst Afghan unaccompanied asylum-seeking children: results from a large-scale cross-sectional study. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 22, 285–294 (2013).

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  • Refugee children
  • Mental health
  • Asylum
  • Afghan