Child Indicators Research

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 647–677 | Cite as

Psychosocial Indicators of Wellbeing for Resettled Refugee Children and Youth: Conceptual and Developmental Directions

  • Colleen A. McFarlaneEmail author
  • Ida Kaplan
  • Jeanette A. Lawrence


In this article we present a framework for the development of psychosocial indicators of wellbeing for refugee children and young people which can be used to assess outcomes of interventions in the settlement context. While some experiences of refugee children and young people overlap with the general population of children and young people, many of their experiences are distinctive because of their exposure to violence prior to arrival and a range of stressors upon resettlement. Drawing on research conducted into outcome indicators at the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, several indicator domains are presented that have sensitivity and specificity for resettled refugee children and young people. The domains presented are distinctive and multifaceted. They encompass the perspectives of young people, parents, and service providers. They incorporate individual and relational aspects, subjective emotional states and observable behaviours. They include signs and symptoms of disturbances to psychological wellbeing, family wellbeing, connections to social groups and community, and positive expressions of wellbeing. They have been developed with an ecological context in mind and thus take into account a range of key contextual mediating variables.


Refugee Children Wellbeing Indicators Outcome 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the generosity of the refugees and staff who participated in this study. We thank Sara Maher for her valuable contribution and recruitment of young people during this research. The study was made possible with the financial support of the Sidney Myer Fund and the William Buckland Foundation.


  1. Almqvist, K., & Broberg, A. G. (1999). Mental health and social adjustment in young refugee children 3 1/2 years after their arrival in Sweden. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38(6), 723–730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2009). A picture of Australia’s children 2009. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.Google Scholar
  3. Ben-Arieh, A. (2008). The child indicators movement: past, present, and future. Child Indicators Research, 1, 3–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berry, J. (1997). Immigration, acculturation, and adaptation. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 46(1), 5–34.Google Scholar
  5. Berry, J. W., & Annis, R. C. (1974). Acculturative stress: the role of ecology, culture and differentiation. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 5, 382–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berry, J. W., Poortinga, Y. H., & Pandey, J. (Eds.). (1997). Handbook of cross-cultural psychology (vols. 1–3) (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  7. Betancourt, T. S., & Williams, T. (2008). Building an evidence base on mental health interventions for children affected by armed conflict. Intervention, 6(1), 39–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Camfield, L., Streuli, N., & Woodhead, M. (2010). Children’s well-being in developing countries: a conceptual and methodological review. European Journal of Development Research, Advance online publication, 6th May 2010; doi:2010.1057/ejdr.2010.2011.
  9. Carver, C. S., & Connor-Smith, J. (2010). Personality and coping. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 679–704.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Centre for Community Child Health & Telethon Institute for Child Health Research. (2009). A snapshot of early childhood development in Australia - AEDI national report 2009. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
  11. Craig, C. D., Sossou, M., Schnak, M., & Essex, H. (2008). Complicated grief and its relationship to mental health and well-being among Bosnian refugees after resettlement in the United States: implications for practice, policy, and research. Traumatology, 14, 103–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. De Haene, L., Grietens, H., & Verschueren, K. (2007). From symptom to context: a review of the literature on refugee children's mental health. Hellenic Journal of Psychology, 4(1), 233–256.Google Scholar
  13. Denzin, N. L., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2000). Handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  14. Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. (2009). The state of Victoria’s children 2008: A report on how children and young people in Victoria are faring. Melbourne: Victorian State Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.Google Scholar
  15. Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. (2003). Report of the review of settlement services for migrants and humanitarian entrants. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
  16. Derluyn, I., & Broekaert, E. (2007). Different perspectives on emotional and behavioural problems in unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents. Ethnicity & Health, 12(2), 141–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dinh, T. Q., Yamada, A. M., & Yee, B. W. K. (2009). A culturally relevant conceptualization of depression: an empirical examination of the factorial structure of the Vietnamese depression scale. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 55(6), 496–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ehntholt, K. A., Smith, P. A., & Yule, W. (2005). School-based cognitive-behavioural therapy group intervention for refugee children who have experienced war-related trauma. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 10(2), 235–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fazel, M., Wheeler, J., & Danesh, J. (2005). Prevalence of serious mental disorder in 7000 refugees resettled in western countries: a systematic review. Lancet, 365, 1309–1314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Hawthorne: Aldine.Google Scholar
  21. Hamilton, M., & Redmond, G. (2010). Conceptualisation of social and emotional wellbeing for children and young people, and policy implications: A research report for the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Retrieved from
  22. Henwood, K. L. (1996). Qualitative inquiry: Perspectives, methods and psychology. In J. T. E. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of qualitative research methods for psychology and the social sciences. Leicester: The British Psychological Society.Google Scholar
  23. Herman, J. L. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  24. Huemer, J., Karnik, N. S., Voelkl-Kernstock, S., Granditsch, E., Dervic, K., Friedrich, M. H., et al. (2009). Mental health issues in unaccompanied refugee minor. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 3, 13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jordans, M. J. D., Tol, W. A., Komproe, I. H., & de Jong, J. V. T. M. (2009). Systematic review of evidence and treatment approaches: psychosocial mental health care for children in war. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 14(1), 2–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kaplan, I. (2009). Effects of trauma and the refugee experience on psychological assessment processes and interpretation. Australian Psychologist, 44(1), 6–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kirmayer, L. J., & Young, A. (1998). Culture and somatization: clinical, epidemiological, and ethnographic perspectives. Psychosomatic Medicine, 60, 420–430.Google Scholar
  28. Lahikainen, A. R., Tolonen, K., & Kraav, I. (2008). Young children’s subjective well-being and family discontents in a changing cultural context. Child Indicators Research, 1, 65–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lawrence, J. A., Kaplan, I., & McFarlane, C. A. (2010). Developing appropriate measures for assessing needs and changes in refugee children. Paper presented at the Australian Institute for Family Studies Conference, Melbourne, Australia.Google Scholar
  30. Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  31. Lustig, S. L., Kia-Keating, M., Knight, W. D., Geltman, P., Ellis, H., Kinzie, D. J., et al. (2004). Review of child and adolescent refugee mental health. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 43(1), 24–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McDonald-Wilmsen, B., & Gifford, S. (2009). Refugee resettlement, family separation and Australia’s humanitarian programme. In New Issues in Refugee Research (Research paper No. 178). Geneva: UNHCR.Google Scholar
  33. McFarlane, C. A., Kaplan, I., & Maher, S. (2010). Researching the wellbeing of refugee families: The influence of process and outcome. Paper presented at The Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, Melbourne, Australia.Google Scholar
  34. Mohlen, H., Parzer, P., Resch, F., & Brunner, R. (2005). Psychosocial support for war-traumatized child and adolescent refugees: evaluation of a short-term treatment program. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 38, 81–87.Google Scholar
  35. Montgomery, E., & Foldspang, A. (2007). Discrimination, mental problems and social adaptation in young refugees. European Journal of Public Health, 18(2), 156–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Muir, K., Mullan, K., Powell, A., Flaxman, S., Thompson, D., & Griffiths, M. (2009). State of Australia’s young people: A report on the social, economic, health and family lives of young people. Canberra: Office for Youth, Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
  37. National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2003). Complex trauma in children and adolescents. White paper from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Complex Trauma Task Force: National Child Traumatic Stress Network, USA.Google Scholar
  38. National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2005). Mental health interventions for refugee children in resettlement: White paper II: National Child Traumatic Stress Network, USA.Google Scholar
  39. Patton, G. C., Glover, S., Bond, L., Butler, H., Godfrey, C., DiPietro, G., et al. (2000). The Gatehouse Project: a systematic approach to mental health promotion in secondary schools. Australian New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 34, 586–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pidgeon, N., & Henwood, K. (1996). Grounded theory: Practical implementation. In J. T. E. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of qualitative research methods for psychology and the social sciences (pp. 86–101). Leicester: The British Psychological Society.Google Scholar
  41. Pollard, E. L., & Lee, P. D. (2003). Child wellbeing: a systematic review of the literature. Social Indicators Research, 61, 59–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Porter, M., & Haslam, N. (2005). Pre-displacement and post-displacement factors associated with mental health of refugees and internally displaced persons: a meta-analysis. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 194(5), 602–612.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Puig, M. E. (2002). The adultification of refugee children. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 5(3), 85–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. QSR International Pty Ltd. (2006). NVivo 7.Google Scholar
  45. Qurioga, J., & Jaranson, J. M. (2005). Politically-motivated torture and its survivors: a desk study review of the literature. Torture, 16(2–3), 1–111.Google Scholar
  46. Ratner, C. (1997). Cultural psychology and qualitative methodology: Theoretical and empirical considerations. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  47. Refugee Council of Australia. (2010). Economic, civic and social contributions of refugees and humanitarian entrants: A literature review. Report retrieved from
  48. Resnick, M. D., Bearman, P. S., Blum, R. W., Bearinger, L., Harris, K. M., Jones, J., et al. (1997). Protecting adolescents from harm: findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 278, 823–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rousseau, C., Mekki-Berrada, A., & Moreau, S. (2001). Trauma and extended separation from family among Latin America and African refugees in Montreal. Psychiatry, 64(1), 40–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rousseau, C., Rufagarib, M., Bagilishyaa, D., & Meashama, T. (2004). Remaking family life: strategies for re-establishing continuity among Congolese refugees during the family reunification process. Social Science & Medicine, 59, 1095–1108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Shear, M. K. (2009). Grief and depression: treatment decisions for bereaved children and adults. American Journal of Psychiatry, 166, 746–748.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Thomas, T., & Lau, W. (2002). Psychological well being of child and adolescent refugee and asylum seekers: overview of major research findings of the past ten years. Retrieved 20th April 2010, from
  53. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (1994). Refugee children: Guidelines on protection and care. Geneva: UNHCR.Google Scholar
  54. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2010). 2009 Global trends: Refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees, internally displaced and stateless persons. Geneva: UNHCR.Google Scholar
  55. Vaage, A. B., Garlov, I., Hauff, E., & Thomsen, P. H. (2007). Psychiatric symptoms and service utilization among refugee children referred to a child psychiatry department: a retrospective comparative case note study. Transcultural Psychiatry, 44(3), 440–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Van der Kolk, B. A. (2005). Developmental trauma disorder: toward a rational diagnosis for children with complex trauma histories. Psychiatric Annals, 35, 401–408.Google Scholar
  57. VicHealth. (2007). More than tolerance: Embracing diversity for health: Discrimination affecting migrant and refugee communities in Victoria, its health consequences, community attitudes and solutions – A summary report. Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne (64 pages). Retrieved from
  58. Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (1998). Rebuilding Shattered Lives. The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, Melbourne, Australia.Google Scholar
  59. Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture. (2007). The education needs of young refugees in Victoria. The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, Melbourne, Australia.Google Scholar
  60. Watters, C. (2001). Emerging paradigms in the mental health care of refugees. Social Science & Medicine, 52, 1709–1718.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Williams, R. (2007). The psychosocial consequences for children of mass violence, terrorism and disasters. International Review of Psychiatry, 19(3), 263–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. World Health Organization. (2007). Mental health: Strengthening mental health promotion. Fact sheet No. 220. World Health Organization, Geneva.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colleen A. McFarlane
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ida Kaplan
    • 1
  • Jeanette A. Lawrence
    • 2
  1. 1.The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of TortureBrunswickAustralia
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyThe University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

Personalised recommendations