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
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