«The ongoing wars around the world have led to an ever increasing exodus of refugee populations for resettlement in developed countries, including the ...»
Mosacardino et al. (2010) used a sample of 171 adolescents to investigate the role of social support, sense of community, collectivistic values, and depressive symptoms among adolescent survivors of the 2004 Beslan terrorist attack in Russia. The researchers stated that the terrorist attack “…represents a particularly traumatizing event, as it was specifically directed at children and occurred in one of the most important developmental settings, the school” (Mascardino et al., 2010, p. 27, Italics added). Bronfenbrenner‟s (1986) ecological theory of human development was utilized in the study. Central in the model was the need to consider individual characteristics such as gender and the adolescents‟ interactions with friends, family members, and significant others.
Furthermore, the role of the larger community in terms of members‟ sense of connectedness and values such as collectivism were identified as important aspects in determining the adolescents‟ responses to the traumatic event. It was proposed that social support would mediate the relationship of sense of community and collectivism with depressive symptoms. Additionally, it was predicted that adolescents who had a higher sense of community and identified with collectivistic values would report higher social support from friends and family. By extension, the availability of these social support systems was related to lower depressive symptoms.
Results indicated that endorsement of collectivistic values was highly related to
depressive symptoms. However, differences among boys and girls were observed in the “susceptibility to” and significance of sources of social support. That is, boys had a wider range of sources of social support compared to girls, and they received and reported higher levels of support from their friends than did girls. Additionally, for boys, a sense of community had a positive effect on depressive symptoms through support from friends. As boys strongly identified with their community, they received more support from their peers, which in turn amounted to fewer depressive symptoms. In the same vein, a sense of community had a positive association with collectivism among boys but not girls. Overall findings from the study indicated social support, sense of community, and collectivistic values were integral aspects in the low levels of depressive symptoms among boys.
Although adolescents in these studies (i.e., Mosacardino et al., 2010; Warren et al.
2009) were not refugees, the inherent similarities with African adolescent refugees make the need to investigate the construct of social support even more important. Past traumatic events adolescent refugees have experienced are similar to the traumatic events of terrorism in the study with children and adolescents from Russia, and, second, the salience and importance of social support, collectivistic values, and sense of community are characteristic of the African way of life.
Social Support and Adolescent Refugees Despite the importance of social support in the well-being of individuals undergoing stressful and difficult life-changing events, this concept has rarely been examined with
becomes important to examine the role of social support in the midst of difficult encounters in resettlement. Importantly, because a majority of refugees are from collectivistic cultures (e.g., Bemak, Chung, & Pedersen, 2003), the concept of social support becomes even more salient due to the value placed upon family and community interconnectedness for individuals‟ well-being.
Recently, some researchers have documented an association between the quality of young refugees‟ peer relationships and their psychosocial adjustment in resettlement.
Kovacev and Shute (2004) studied 83 refugee adolescents, aged between 12 and 19, from former Yugoslavia to examine the different acculturation attitudes and perceived social support in relation to refugee adolescents‟ psychosocial adjustment. In the study, the following were hypothesized: (1) acculturation would predict a young person‟s psychosocial adjustment but the strength and direction of the relationship would vary depending on the type of acculturation (e.g., acculturation through integration would have the strongest positive correlation coefficient and marginalization the strongest negative correlation); (2) acculturation would predict peer social acceptance (PSA), however, the strength and direction of the relation between acculturation and PSA would vary depending on the type of acculturation; (3) social support (i.e., parent, classmate, and close friends support) would be positively correlated with global self-worth and peer social acceptance, and higher levels of perceived support would be associated with higher psychosocial adjustment.
Furthermore, it was expected that acculturation attitudes would influence the amount
adjustment. Psychosocial adjustment was operationalized as Global Self Worth and Peer Social Acceptance. To assess Global Self Worth, the Adolescent Self-Perception Profile (“What I am Like,” Harter, 1988) was used in the study. Peer Social Acceptance was measured using the Social Acceptance scale of the Adolescent Self-Perception Profile (Harter, 1988). Social support was assessed using the Social Support Scale for Children (Harter, 1985) with separate subscales of sources of positive regard from parents, classmates, close friends, and teachers. Acculturation was measured by the Acculturation Attitude Scale (AAS, Sam 1995). The scale consists of 10 items scored 1-5, with 5 representing the strongest agreement and 1 the strongest disagreement with the statement.
Results from the study indicated moderate to strong correlations, especially between global self worth and classmate support. It was observed that adolescent refugees greatly invested in their classmates. For example, being regarded favorably by their peers (i.e., both from mainstream and original culture) was an integral aspect in the manner they perceived themselves. Correlations between social support and peer social acceptance indicated strongest correlations with classmate support. This outcome suggested that refugee adolescents who perceived themselves having supportive peers also perceived themselves as valuable, of significance to their peers, and able to easily interact with others. With the acceptance from their peers, young refugees found themselves popular and able to establish relationships as peers (Kovacev & Shute, 2004), which then led to
Consistent with past research findings on acculturation attitudes and adaptation of immigrant adolescents (e.g., Birman & Taylor-Ritzler, 2007; Liebkind & JasinskajaLahti, 2000; Motti-Stefanidi et al., 2008; Neto, 2002; Pfafferott & Brown, 2006;
Pisarenko, 2006; Sam & Berry, 1995; Virta, Sam, & Westin, 2004), Kovacev and Shute (2004) found that adolescent refugees who preferred integration were more well adjusted than their counterparts who identified solely with the original or mainstream culture. That is, integration had a significant positive relationship with psychosocial adjustment as measured in terms of global self-worth and peer social support. On the contrary, marginalization and separation provided negative outcomes in psychosocial adjustment.
Adolescent refugees who identified solely with either the host or original culture experienced difficulties adjusting in the host country. Similarly, young refugees who rejected their original culture and embraced the host culture were perceived less favorably by their peers and thus had less support, leading to negative psychosocial adjustment.
A positive relationship between social support and psychosocial adjustment was observed by Kovacev and Shute (2004). The more close refugee adolescent refugees had, the more socially acceptable they found themselves amongst their peers. For future research, the researchers suggested that in order to promote positive adjustment for adolescent refugees, there is need to focus on other issues such as individual characteristics (i.e., coping style) and societal attitudes towards refugees in general.
Overall, the results from this study offer a promising avenue in studying refugee
resettlement. Because this study was carried out in a different setting and with a different group of adolescent refugees, it may be helpful to determine if these findings hold with African adolescent refugees resettled in the U.S. Notably, Kovacev and Shute (2004) stressed that the emphasis of a multicultural policy in Australia (e.g., favorable perception towards new arrivals) may have provided less challenging experiences for the adolescents during adjustment than if it were a monolithic society (i.e., favoring exclusion). Using the same model of adjustment (i.e., Multicultural Acculturation Model), the present study will focus on adolescent refugees from African war-torn countries residing in the U.S. which, similar to Australia, is also considered a multicultural society.
Social Support and African Refugees Social support has been found to play an important role among individuals undergoing difficult, stressful, and traumatic experiences, especially those from collectivistic cultures (Moscardino et al., 2010). It has been documented that a majority of refugees in countries of resettlement, including African refugees, are from collectivistic countries (Bemak et al., 2003). This makes an investigation of social support among refugees during resettlement even more important. Among African refugees, Stoll and Johnson (2007) used a sample of 164 male adults to investigate the determinants of psychosocial adjustment among Sudanese refugee men resettled in Canada. In the study, the researchers hypothesized that: (1) the breadwinner role and its financial and emotional demands would predict greater psychosocial adjustment
of psychosocial adjustment. This study a conceptual basis in “role theory” with its emphasis on the “global breadwinner role strain.” Role strain, defined as “the felt difficulty in fulfilling role obligations” (Goode, 1960, p. 483), was believed to lead to an individual‟s emotional difficulties due to the many responsibilities one had to fulfill. It was believed that the efforts by individuals to balance the different role obligations may lead to “conflicts of allocation” that may impact an individual emotionally, psychologically, and physically. For instance, conflicts may arise in fulfilling the traditional roles of men providing for the family financially and women carrying out domestic responsibilities, particularly when individuals from low resource countries resettle in urban centers in host countries (Stoll & Johnson, 2007).
Stoll and Johnson (2007) conceptualized that, for Sudanese male refugees, “role strain” was the outcome of fulfilling the “global breadwinner role” while resettling in a new country. It was found that while “conflicts of allocation” may be mainly financial, the strain from fulfilling the “global breadwinner role” affected an individual emotionally too. That is, in fulfilling their traditional provider role (i.e., for immediate and extended family, relatives), men may encounter challenges in prioritizing and allocating their resources to respective persons. Consequently, this may lead to emotional imbalance and/or difficulties and negatively impact their psychosocial adjustment. The researchers stated that central to the psychosocial adjustment of Sudanese men were the role of social support from the community and family on the one hand, and religion on the other.
Results from Stoll and Johnson (2007) indicated that men who had more financial
found that religion was crucial in the lives of men who exhibited resilience in the face of difficulties, particularly in the context of a cohesive community that shared similar cultural norms and expressions of faith. Men who reported being more religious experienced fewer psychological adjustment difficulties. Similarly, respondents who had higher scores on perceived social support showed fewer psychosocial adjustment difficulties. Psychosocial adjustment was mainly facilitated by social support from family and the Sudanese community.
Stoll and Johnson (2007) suggested that findings from this study may have implications for other refugee populations (e.g., those from Somalia, Afghanistan) who face similar stressors in supporting families in their home countries while at the same time adjusting to a new life during resettlement. In a notable conclusion from the results, Stoll and Johnson stated that “our research shows that social support from friends and family and strong religious beliefs are two coping resources that greatly ameliorate the adjustment difficulties of this group of refugees” (p. 637, Italics added). Because research on psychosocial adjustment of refugees in general is rare, it may be important to investigate if similar findings (e.g., importance of social support from friends and family, especially parents) may hold with African adolescent refugees who may encounter similar strain, challenges, and stressors (and therefore negatively impact their psychosocial adjustment) as a result of family role reversals and other immediate demands in resettlement.
Similar findings on the role of social support were found by Whittaker, Hardy, Lewis,
understanding of psychological well-being among five young Somali refugee women living in northern England. Three themes were identified in results from individual and group interviews: resilience and protection, identity and beliefs, and concealment, secrets, and distancing. Notably, participants described the importance of social support from family and the community as sources of strength during the period of resettlement.
Specifically, the mother was identified as having the ability to offer emotional support through talking, advising, and giving practical help to the participants. Results from this study are similar to other findings (e.g., Adjukovic & Adjukovic, 1993; Locke et al.,
1996) in which a mother‟s ability to cope with refugee displacement had positive impact on refugee children‟s social adjustment.
Empirical studies of social support and African adolescent refugees are minimal.