European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 26, Issue 11, pp 1331–1341 | Cite as

A file study of refugee children referred to specialized mental health care: from an individual diagnostic to an ecological perspective

  • Julia Villanueva O’Driscoll
  • Geertrui Serneels
  • Lindita Imeraj
Original Contribution


The past years have been characterized by a large refugee crisis across the globe. The exposure to preflight, flight, and resettlement stressors puts refugee children and their families at risk of developing emotional and behavioral disorders. A unique Western-based approach of mental health problems seems to be insufficient to address the complexity of interactions between individual vulnerabilities and more ecological surrounding systems. We looked into (1) the reasons for referral; and (2) the process diagnostic outcomes after ethnopsychiatric and psychological assessment. We conducted a thematic content analysis on 93 files of refugee children. The findings suggest that mental health care professionals need to hold into account the multiplicity and intertwining of ongoing challenges to the well-being of refugee children. The integration of a Western-based psychiatric assessment with a more ecologically based view can lead to a more culturally sensitive approach in refugee children and their families. This way, both under- and overdiagnosis of psychiatric disorders could be avoided to further optimalise mental health care in this population.


Refugees Refugee children Ecological framework Culturally sensitive approach File study Mental health care 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


European Refugee Fund.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Solentra vzw, Child and Adolescent Department (PAika), Universitair Ziekenhuis BrusselJetteBelgium
  2. 2.Faculty of Psychology and Educational SciencesVrije Universiteit BrusselElseneBelgium
  3. 3.Faculty of Medicine and PharmacyVrije Universiteit BrusselJetteBelgium

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