«The ongoing wars around the world have led to an ever increasing exodus of refugee populations for resettlement in developed countries, including the ...»
Although the period of transition and migration from their countries of origin to a new country could be a potentially difficult task for refugees in general, it is even more so for adolescent refugees. For many African adolescent refugees, for whom the aspect of the family and communal existence is extremely salient (e.g., Davies, 2008; Stoll & Johnson, 2007), the process may be even harder without their caregivers. Migration from their original homes involves a general disruption of the course of daily lives from their
disruption may lead to an overall sense of insecurity and uncertainty that could be detrimental to the adolescents‟ emotional and psychological well-being in a new environment. Besides, due to the adolescents‟ critical developmental level and/or stage at the time of departure from their home countries, they also face the dual challenge of developing a balance between their original cultural belonging and the need to belong in the culture of their peers for ease of adjustment in resettlement. Therefore, it becomes necessary to examine these negotiations and the eventual adjustment or maladjustment of the adolescent refugees in the host country.
The process of resettlement could be difficult for both young and adult refugees due to their past traumas, which may include pre-departure, during flight, and to some extent post- traumatic experiences. To date, most researchers (e.g., Barenbaum, Ruchkin, & Schwab-Stone, 2004; Berthold, 2000; Layne et al., 2001; Mghir, Freed, Raskin, & Katon,
1995) understandably have focused on adolescent refugees‟ past traumatic experiences and the resulting impact on their adaptation, mental and/or psychological problems, and generalized trauma. This focus has yielded diagnoses and suggestions for treatment.
Researchers (e.g., Ellis, Macdonald, Lincoln, & Cabral, 2008; Mghir, Freed, Raskin, & Katon, 1995; Layne et al., 2001; Sack, Clark, & Seeley, 1995; Smith, Perrin, Yule, Hacam, & Stuvland, 2002) have documented the occurrence of mental disorders, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other types of distress among adolescent refugees. To some extent, the outcome of this approach has led to the perception of
These researchers in essence have relied on the “trauma-based or medical model” that emphasizes the pathology of refugee populations, that is, a reliance on determining psychological problems or conditions developing from past trauma, as well as treatment modalities for these conditions (Ryan, Dooley, & Benson, 2008). Indeed, this approach provides avenues for addressing some of the psychological problems that result from premigration trauma, even for newly resettled adolescent refugees. This approach, however, does not fully encompass the immediate psychosocial and emotional needs of the adolescents (Watters, 2001), needs that are central to their adjustment in the new environment. Consequently, the outcomes may not provide a lasting, long term impact on the overall well-being of adolescent refugees in terms of their adjustment in the new environment.
Additionally, measurements and assessments of children and adolescents affected by war are based on past adversities and loss (e.g., Barenbaum, Ruchkin, & Schwab-Stone, 2004; Mghir, Freed, Raskin, & Katon, 1995) and how these problems directly or indirectly impact their adaptation and adjustment in resettlement. Overall, this is a further emphasis of the pathological view of refugee experiences that has dominated research of refugee populations. Although the use of these instruments has shown some PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other traumatic outcomes to be prevalent in some refugee populations, arguably not all refugees exhibit these diagnoses and/or symptoms (e.g., Halcon et al., 2004). On the contrary, a majority of children and adolescents have proved to be resilient and have adjusted well in the resettlement despite their past traumatic
Therefore, critics of the “trauma-based/medical model” for studying refugees in resettlement have argued that, while an understanding of past trauma from their countries of origin is important in helping refugees during their transition period (e.g., providing mental health care), this approach may not suffice in identifying some of the more pressing and equally critical needs in their lives in host environments (Ryan et al., 2008;
Watters, 2001). The potential demands and responsibilities for refugees during the postmigration period within the host countries have received less attention in comparison to pre-migration experiences (Ryan et al., 2008).
To redirect the focus to understudied aspects of refugees in resettlement, some researchers have observed that a “medical model” approach has contributed very little to our understanding of the actual refugee adaptation and adjustment processes or the impact of the host social environment on their overall well-being (Lustig et al., 2004;
Ryan et al., 2008; Summerfield, 1999). Other researchers have found that experiences in the host country (e.g., basic needs, social needs, navigating the available resources, problems due to cultural differences) are stronger predictors of refugees‟ psychosocial adjustment than pre-migrational experiences (Kovacev & Shute, 2004; Summerfield, 1999; Watters, 2001). Thus, there is an urgent need to examine additional non-medical aspects of adolescent refugees‟ well-being in countries of resettlement. Some of these aspects include determinants of their psychosocial adjustment.
Recently, some researchers (e.g., Davies, 2008; Farwell, 2001; Kovacev & Shute, 2004; Mӧhlen, Parzer, Resch, & Brunner, 2005; Stoll & Johnson, 2007) have shifted their
populations to a focus on their psychosocial well-being and determinants of adjustment in the host environment. The terms “psychosocial” and “psychological” adjustment have been used interchangeably by researchers (e.g., Stoll & Johnson, 2007). In addition, different terms have been used in the literature to operationalize psychosocial adjustment, including, “self-esteem, self-concept, global self-worth, and global self-esteem” (Kovacev & Shute, 2004, p. 261). The term psychosocial adjustment will be used in this study, defined by a combination of some aspects of psychological and social aspects of adjustment. Psychosocial adjustment will be defined as positive self-perception, a positive view of an individual‟s way of life that includes a sense of and being happy about the way one is or “liking oneself” (Kovacev & Shute, 2004).
Psychosocial adjustment of refugees has not received much attention in the literature.
The few exceptions (e.g., Stoll & Johnson, 2007) have indicated that, for African refugees in resettlement, psychosocial adjustment may be impacted by the many immediate family responsibilities, resettlement stressors, and extended family obligations back in their original countries. For example, the immediate needs of housing, learning a new language, job search, and sudden change in an individual‟s social economic status may be demanding and adversely impact the process of psychosocial adjustment.
Furthermore, the absence of the social fabric (e.g., community members, extended family) that is central to the nurturing of many refugees‟ emotional and social well-being may exacerbate some of the adjustment problems they encounter. Thus, determining and enhancing aspects of psychosocial adjustment may be necessary and even urgent for
psychosocial adjustment is the role of social support in the lives of young and adult refugees (Halcon et al., 2004; Kovacev & Shute, 2004; Stoll & Johnson, 2007).
Social support has been defined and conceptualized differently by researchers. Harter (1985) defined social support as the acceptance or positive regard an individual receives from others. These others may include a person‟s immediate and/or extended family (depending upon the cultural background) and peers within different environments.
Warren, Jackson, and Sifers (2009) conceptualized social support as a multidimensional construct that consists of relationships, perceptions, and transactions that help individuals master emotional distress, share tasks, receive advice, learn skills, and obtain material assistance (p. 107).
Social support has been documented as a salient aspect during the developmental stages of young adolescents in general (Masten & Coatsworth, 1998) and particularly for young adolescents undergoing stressful life events and transitions, such as adolescent refugees in resettlement.
Resettlement for adolescent refugees is inherently stressful due to the demands of new adjustments in their way of life and overall interactions within different environments. These demands in their new environments include adjustment in the new school system and the need to form new relationships with their peers. During the period of resettlement, adolescent refugees also need emotional resources (i.e., support in stressful times, affirmation, and encouragement) that are necessary for effective adaptation. Their successful adjustment outcomes may depend upon the availability of a
environment. Both parental and peer social support have been closely associated with psychosocial adjustment among adolescent refugees in resettlement (Kovacev & Shute, 2004).
In a review of child and adolescent mental health, Lustig et al. (2007) found that positive peer relationships were associated with children and adolescents‟ self-worth and social adjustment. Conversely, bullying and negative peer relationships were related to low levels of self-worth and adjustment. Maja et al. (2001) found that adolescent immigrants who experienced difficulties in their relations with peers were more likely to develop mental health problems and ultimately difficulties in their adjustment.
Some differences in acceptance of social support from peers have been observed among adolescents in resettlement. In a study of young immigrant adolescents in Norway, Oppedal and Roysamb (2004) observed that significant support from friends, peers, and classmates were important predictors of change in the adjustment of girls, whereas boys valued support from their family network. In a study of coping mechanisms among African refugee youth who had experienced trauma, Halcon et al.
(2004) suggested that females were more likely to talk about their problems with friends (i.e., seek support) whereas young men coped by exercising. Overall, peer social support has been documented as being important in the adjustment of adolescents; however, previous studies primarily have been focused on immigrant adolescents. An examination of peer social support in the psychosocial adjustment of African adolescent refugees may
Parental support also has been found to impact adjustment of adolescents positively.
In some studies (e.g., Liebkind & Jasinskaja-Lahti, 2000), adjustment levels and wellbeing of adolescents has been determined by general support from both parents, although sometimes indicating differences in maternal and paternal support for female and male adolescents. Liebkind and Jasinskaja-Lahti (2000) also observed that parental support was associated with lower perceptions of discrimination, which in turn contributed to successful adjustment and overall satisfaction with life in a new environment among immigrants. Gender differences have been reported; self-esteem was related to higher perceived maternal support among females and higher perceived paternal support among males. Other researchers (e.g., Adjukovic & Adjukovic, 1993; Almqvist & Broberg,
1999) also have found that the well-being of parents, particularly mothers, is associated with adjustment levels of refugee children and adolescents. When mothers are unable to provide social support due to their own psychological difficulties (e.g., PTSD, depression, anxiety), their children exhibit lower adjustment within new environments.
Peer and parental social supports appear to be integral aspects and predictors of adjustment among adolescent refugees (Kovacev & Shute, 2004). This relationship may be even more salient for African adolescent refugees who come from collectivistic cultures (e.g., Bemak, Chung, & Pedersen, 2003; Stoll & Johnson, 2007) where parents in particular play a pivotal role in their general well-being, especially during adverse and stressful times. Therefore, for African adolescent refugees, parental support may be more important than peer support because of their cultural backgrounds. Parents are likely
Despite the importance of parental and peer social support as key determinants in adjustment of adolescent refugees, previous researchers (e.g., Liebkind & JasinskajaLahti, 2000; Sam, 2000) primarily have examined adaptation and psychological wellbeing of immigrant adolescents. There has been less attention on adolescent refugees in general and African adolescents in particular. Recently, a few researchers (Davies, 2008;
Kovacev & Shute, 2004) have set a precedent in examining the role of social support in psychosocial adjustment of adolescent refugees. Kovacev and Shute (2004) examined social support and psychosocial adjustment among adolescent refugees from former Yugoslavia.
Among African refugees, Stoll and Johnson (2007) investigated the psychosocial adjustment of Southern Sudanese adult males in Canada. They found the role of social support from the community and the family to be key determinants of psychosocial adjustment. With African adolescent refugees, Davies (2008) found that social support from the family was essential in helping young Sierra Leonean adolescent refugees‟ adjustment in school. Similar findings of the role of social support were found by Halcon et al. (2004) in a study of Somali and Oromo refugee youth. Although Kia-Keating and Ellis (2007) examined young African refugees‟ psychosocial adjustment and belonging to school in the resettlement, the two subscales for social support resources were dropped from the instrument administered; thus, the impact of social support was not determined in the study. An investigation of parental and peer social support and its role in the psychosocial adjustment of African adolescent refugees will advance research in this