European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 423–437 | Cite as

Refugee children’s sandplay narratives in immigration detention in Canada

  • Rachel Kronick
  • Cécile Rousseau
  • Janet Cleveland
Original Contribution


Asylum seeking children arriving in Canada regularly face incarceration in medium-security-style immigration detention centres. Research demonstrates the human cost of detaining migrant children and families and the psychiatric burden linked with such imprisonment. This study aims to understand the lived experiences of children aged 3–13 held in detention. Informed by a qualitative methodology of narrative inquiry, child participants created worlds in the sand and generated stories to express their subjective experience. Results suggest that children’s sandplay confirms the traumatic nature of immigration detention while also revealing children’s sometimes conflicting understanding of the meaning of detention and their own migration. The results are contextualized by a description of detention conditions and the psychiatric symptoms associated with immigration incarceration. The study highlights the need for more research examining the impact of immigration detention on children’s mental health, while also underlining how refugee children’s voices provide important direction for policy change.


Immigration detention Children Refugee Asylum seeker Sandplay Mental health 



The authors thank all the children and parents who participated in the reseach, as well as the organizations who helped facilitate participation, Action Réfugiés Montréal and the Toronto Refugee Affairs Council (TRAC). We would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers of the manuscript for their insight and guidance.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

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


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel Kronick
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Cécile Rousseau
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  • Janet Cleveland
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Division of Social and Transcultural PsychiatryMcGill UniversityMontréalCanada
  2. 2.Centre for Child Development and Mental HealthJewish General HospitalMontréalCanada
  3. 3.CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l’île-de-MontréalMontréalCanada
  4. 4.Sherpa Research CentreMontréalCanada
  5. 5.MontréalCanada

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