2021 Annual Report

Wellbeing: The connection between language and wellbeing for refugee children and youth

Pre-migration experiences affect wellbeing and language learning of refugee children and youth.

Dr. Akm Alamgir and colleagues found that PTSD, depression and anxiety were the most common mental health concerns for youth who had lost or been separated from family members during migration. Lower levels of literacy and language barriers tended to increase the severity of PTSD. 

Just as language barriers can impact the mental health of refugee youth, Dr. Becky Chen and colleagues found that mental health can affect language learning for refugee children. Researchers found a relationship between the length of time spent in refugee camps and word reading in children with ADHD symptoms, suggesting that living in refugee camps may result in negative social consequences that affect children’s mental health and language learning.

“What we found is there is a correlation – there is a relationship between their mental health and wellbeing and their performance on reading tasks. … Interestingly, we also found that these relations were mediated by their refugee camp experience. So, if they spent more time in the refugee camp before they arrived in Canada, then they were more likely to have these symptoms, and then these symptoms were more likely to have a negative impact on their language and literacy performance. And I think the results just demonstrate that mental health and wellbeing are really important for children’s language and literacy development.”Becky Xi Chen, The Refuge, Ep. 4

“A lot of the teachers we spoke to spoke about trauma and how that can manifest itself in various behaviors such as hyperactivity and inattention and these sorts of things. And that obviously hinders, as you can imagine, one’s ability to focus on learning in a classroom setting… One of the things they’ve also said is just the resiliency of so many children and just the amazement, the utter amazement they have at how quickly some children can pick up the language, especially if they’re arriving at a young age.”Monique Gagné, The Refuge Ep. 4

Social support is important for wellbeing of refugee children and youth

Dr. Martin Guhn and colleagues found that having supportive adults at home and at school had a positive impact on children’s social emotional outcomes—including higher levels of life satisfaction, optimism, and self-esteem, as well as lower levels of reported sadness. Peer belonging and a supportive school climate also benefited children’s wellbeing. Dr. Akm Alamgir and colleagues found that social support reduced PTSD, depression, and anxiety in refugee youth who had experienced family loss or separation. Supportive services at the community level also played an important role for these youth. Effective interventions included housing support, help obtaining warm clothes, dealing with claims in court, and filing taxes, as well as mental health and mentorship programs, recreational activities, and arts-based programs.

“What it really showed to us was the importance of school for refugee children and not just in the ways we typically think about schools…for learning reading, writing, and arithmetic, that sort of classic idea. But for refugee children, in particular, just having access to resources and supports that are going to support their socio-emotional development – which is obviously huge for children who have gone through…trauma…” – Monique Gagné, The Refuge Ep. 4

Main Takeaways:


Alamgir and colleagues “A Study of PTSD in Unaccompanied Refugee Youth” (2021)
Click to view infographic

Dr. Akm Alamgir and colleagues, along with filmmakers from York University, put together a video of their findings to illustrate some of the challenges that refugee youth who have experienced family loss and separation face as part of their settlement journey in Canada

LINC Students’ Career Goals Pathways Analysis

Researchers: Lisa Rochman1, Maria Montenegro1, Erika Goble1, Mesay Tegegne1, Timothy Anderson2, Marco Garcia Salinas1, Anna M. Janik3, and Brooke Leifso1
NorQuest College1, MacEwan University2, and Red River College3
Research Partners: NorQuest College

This study identified the most common career goal changes made by LINC students, the most common pathways for those who change their career goals, and how the LINC program and services influence career goal changes. Through the knowledge mobilization initiative of the board game, this study also increased collaboration and interest in collaborative research among LINC providers in order to improve support for newcomers’ career goals.

Labour Market Vulnerabilities of Refugees in Canada: The Impacts of Entry Program, Arrival Age, and Gender

Researchers: Monica Boyd1, and Shawn Perron1
Affiliations: University of Toronto1

This study focuses on three categories of humanitarian admissions between 1980 and 2014: government-assisted refugees (GARs), privately sponsored refugees (PSRs) and migrants who apply for asylum in Canada and become protected persons in Canada (PPC). This study asks whether mode of entry and gender shape labour market integration, thus creating economic outcome differences within the refugee population.

Developing Skills, Building Relationships: The Social and Employment Outcomes of ISANS’ Immigrant Youth Employability Program

Researchers: Catherine Bryan1, Serperi Sevgur1, Temitope Abiagom1, Nabiha Atallah2
Affiliations: Dalhousie University1, Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia2
Research Partners: ISANS

This study evaluated the outcomes and benefits of ISANS’ Immigrant Youth Employability (IYE) Program —an innovative newcomer youth employment program offering a mix of classroom learning and on-the-job training.

Pathways of Youth with Refugee Experience in Nova Scotia

Researchers: Ifeyinwa Mbakogu1, and Emily Pelley1
Affiliations: Dalhousie University1
Research Partners: ISANS, Nova Scotia Office of Immigration, Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education

This study aims to understand the challenges that youth with refugee experience (YRE) face in making the school-to-work transition, specifically looking at Government-Assisted Refugees (GARs) and Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs) living both within an urban area, Halifax, and in rural areas in Nova Scotia.

Loss and Protracted Family Separation among Refugee Children and Youth: Examining Post-migration Impacts and Service Needs

Researchers: Researchers: AKM Alamgir1, Serena Nudel1, Amjed Abojedi1, Kwame McKenzie2, Michaela Hynie5, Manolli Ekra4, and Branka Agic5
Affiliations: Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services1, Wellesley Institute2, York University3, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)4, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)5
Research Partner: Access Alliance, OCASI, Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT), Across Boundaries, FCJ Refugee Centre

This study combined findings from a scoping review with experiential data from refugee youth and service providers to summarize evidence about the impacts of family loss and separation on refugee youth. The research team developed a list of resources for refugee youth, a practitioner toolkit for conducting research with refugee youth, and a policy statement.

School and Community Resources and the Social-Emotional and Academic Adjustment of Refugee Children

Researchers: Martin Guhn, Monique Gagné, Anne Gadermann, Scott Emerson, and Randip Gill
Affiliations: Human Early Learning Partnership, University of British Columbia

This study examined how neighbourhood, school, and community resources were associated with refugee children’s social-emotional and academic adjustment. The sample comprised of first- and second- generation refugee children who were respondents to a survey of well-being (the Middle Years Development Instrument; MDI) in British Columbia.

Well-Being and Learning: Processes of Resilience in Refugee Children

Researchers: Jennifer Jenkins1, Kathy Georgiades2, Johanne Paradis3, Xi (Becky) Chen1, and Alexandra Gottardo4
Affiliations: OISE, University of Toronto1, McMaster University2, University of Alberta3, Wilfred Laurier University4
Research Partners: NorQuest College and H.appi

This study aims to  identify rates of cognitive and mental health problems among refugee children, the extent to which learning and mental health influence each other over time, and parents’ concerns, service use, and gaps in service with respect to children’s learning and well-being since arriving in Canada. This study is a collaboration with another CYRRC project from the Language and Learning cluster to explore the relationship between learning and well-being in Syrian refugee children.