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«The ongoing wars around the world have led to an ever increasing exodus of refugee populations for resettlement in developed countries, including the ...»

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In a study with traumatized adolescent refugees from Bosnia Herzegovina, Layne et al. (2001) investigated the effectiveness of a school-based postwar intervention program in reducing distress and grief symptoms and promoting positive adaptation. In the study of 87 adolescents, the researchers sought to determine (1) if participation in trauma/grieffocused group psychotherapy was associated with reduced posttraumatic stress, complicated grief, and depressive symptoms; (2) if symptom reduction was associated

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peer relationships; and (3) if satisfaction with the group experience was positively related to symptom reduction and psychosocial adjustment.

A developmental psychopathology model of trauma and posttraumatic adjustment (i.e., used in studying children and adolescents exposed to war-trauma) framed this study.

In this model, it is postulated that the course of posttraumatic adjustment in children and adolescents is influenced by numerous psychological and socioenvironmental risk and protective factors embedded within the pre trauma, peritrauma, and post trauma ecologies and propose that intervention efforts must systematically target these factors (Layne et al., 2001, p.


Also important in the model is the suggestion that intervention programs target five areas, namely traumatic experiences, reminders of trauma and loss, posttraumatic adversities, interplay between trauma and grief, and resumption of developmental progression.

Results indicated that participants in the trauma/grief-focused group psychotherapy had significant reductions in posttraumatic stress, depression, and grief symptoms using pre-treatment and post-treatment analysis. Notably, reductions in posttraumatic and distress symptoms were associated with higher levels of psychosocial adaptation; that is, low levels of posttraumatic stress positively impacted classroom compliance, peer relationships and school interest, and greatly reduced school anxiety withdrawal.

Furthermore, satisfaction with the group experience had a positive impact on classroom rule compliance, peer relationships, and general interest in school. These findings

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effective in addressing some prior traumatic issues that impact psychosocial adjustment and/or adaptation.

Layne et al. (2001) suggested that future researchers might need to focus on determining the effectiveness of a postwar program in the social, economic, and political contexts (i.e., within specific countries) it is implemented. Also, with the widespread extent of traumatic exposures and severe stresses imposed by war, and the scarcity of available human and material resources, they suggested the need for a shift in focus in studying adolescent refugees. That is, they suggested researchers not to seek to answer “Does this program work and, if so, how?”, but rather “Is this the best program for this population at this given point in time, given the resources available?” (Layne et al., 2001, p. 287). This suggestion may be critical in research with adolescent refugees because of the different cultural backgrounds they represent, particularly those from Africa due to the inter-and-intra ethnic group differences that may exist.

African Adolescent Refugees Studies with a specific focus on African adolescent refugees in resettlement are scarce. A few researchers have investigated trauma and its related outcomes among African adolescent refugees in resettlement. Halcon et al. (2004) investigated war-trauma history, immigration factors, problems, and coping strategies among African refugee adolescents. Participants in the study were 338 Somali and Oromo youth from Africa who had experienced past trauma and torture in their home countries. Results indicated that Oromo boys had experienced higher rates of trauma and traumatic events compared

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adolescents on the levels of social problems they experienced. On the other hand, girls of Oromo origin had significantly higher levels of trauma than all groups (i.e., Somali boys and girls and Oromo boys). A moderate to strong correlation was found between high levels of trauma experienced and physical, psychological, and social problems. That is, adolescents with multiple past traumatic events exhibited relatively more problems than those who had experienced fewer traumas.

Important in the results were the marked differences in the adolescents‟ coping strategies with past trauma and sadness. The girls were more likely to talk about their problems with friends, but boys coped by exercising. It appears that in comparison to boys, girls are more likely to talk to their peers and/or friends about issues affecting them in a new environment. Therefore, due to their peers‟ support, girls may experience limited difficulties during adjustment. These differences (i.e., support from peers/friends) among adolescent refugee boys and girls have not been fully explored in the research literature. It may be helpful to investigate any differences or similarities among African adolescent refugees during their adjustment in the host country.

The literature on children and adolescent refugees past traumatic experiences and the effects has been well documented. Although there have been a few exceptions of youth exhibiting resilience and minimal to lack of PTSD symptoms (e.g., Amone P- Olak, 2007; Lustig et al., 2004), in many studies the results have indicated high prevalence of PTSD. Other accompanying psychological problems (i.e., depression, aggressive and/or conduct disorder, grief, anxiety disorders, memory defects, suicidality) also have been

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symptoms may decrease after a period of time in resettlement, but, it also has been reported that the high prevalence of PTSD among children and adolescents may still linger even many years after resettlement in a new environment (Montgomery & Foldspang, 2007).

The findings stated above, coupled with host environment stressors upon arrival (i.e., discrimination, family separation, and acculturation) may adversely affect the already disrupted normal developmental processes of adolescent refugees. Like the general adolescent population who are in a state of transition developmentally, adolescent refugees are faced with different developmental tasks they are required to fulfill as they also adjust to new ways of life in a new environment. Understandably, their mental, emotional, and social capacities to successfully fulfill some of the tasks may be stretched by the more immediate resettlement responsibilities.

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The stage of adolescence and its developmental tasks may have some similarities but also specific differences for adolescents due to an individual‟s cultural background. For example, adolescents from a collectivistic background, which would include African refugees, often undergo some age-specific rites of passage and roles as prerequisites for becoming full members of the community. In contrast, adolescents from a Western background (i.e., individualistic) such as the U.S. have their own culture and way of

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developmental tasks and responsibilities of adolescents from different cultural backgrounds.

From the Western perspective, Erik Erikson (1968) pioneered the psychosocial developmental stages a human being undergoes from childhood to adulthood. In his theory, he delineated eight stages of development, each with different milestones to be attained by individuals as they from one stage to another. Among the important elements in Erikson‟s theory is the development of ego identity, defined as the awareness of the fact that there is a self-sameness and continuity… the style of one’s individuality, and that this style coincides with the sameness and continuity of one‟s meaning for significant others in the immediate community (Erikson, 1968, p.


In other words, an individual‟s continuous conscious sense of self is not stagnant but fluid, ever changing through the social interactions within the community they live.

Equally important in Erikson‟s theory is the development of a sense of competence in one stage. Eventually, this competence acts as a motivation in both behaviors and actions as one moves to the next stage in life. Successful achievement of the challenges and demands in one stage leads to what Erikson called ego strength, a prerequisite in the overall developmental process in the life cycle. Notably, these stages of development are also marked by conflicts that may change the course of an individual‟s developmental cycle (e.g., may lead to regression to the former stage). The ability to manage these conflicts leads to a mastery of the issues at one stage; failure may lead to a sense of

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Basic trust vs. mistrust forms the fundamental stage of Erikson‟s theory. On the one hand, he defined a sense of basic trust as “a pervasive attitude toward oneself and the world derived from the experiences of the first year of life” (Erikson 1968, p. 96). On the other hand, basic mistrust “is expressed in a particular form of severe estrangement which characterizes individuals who withdraw into themselves when at odds with themselves and with others” (p. 97). Erikson believed that trust was comprised of “an essential trustfulness of others as well as a fundamental sense of one‟s own trustworthiness” (p.

96). This stage is characterized by the virtual dependability of the child on his or her caregivers (e.g., mother). The child depends upon caregivers to provide comfort and nurturance necessary at this stage.

Additionally, the quality, consistency, and dependability of caregivers at this stage leads to the child‟s development of, and trust in, the people around them as a child and in later years. By extension, the child also develops hope (the belief in attaining of wishes inspite of the need for dependency) and perceives the world as a safe place to be and thrive. On the contrary, inconsistency and unavailability by caregivers leads to the child‟s development of basic mistrust in the short term and later in adulthood. This may manifest through fear and withdrawal (e.g., in companionships) and general perception of the world as unpredictable and unsafe for the child. Erikson summed the child‟s identity formulation at this stage as “I am what hope I have and give” (p. 107).

The second psychosocial stage, autonomy vs. shame, forms the early childhood experiences and is characterized by the task of developing a sense of personal control or

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mastery of toilet training) leads to a child feeling in control and independent to performing tasks on their own. Therefore, parents who create an environment of guidance and praise as needed, as well as accepting of children‟s attempts to be independent (even when they fail), facilitate their development of autonomy. That is, children are able to have a sense of willingness to perform or try out things on their own, an important element in the development of their self-esteem as children and later as adults.

Contrastingly, parents who are too lenient, harsh, or demanding may impact their children negatively as they develop a sense of shame and doubt about their ability to perform tasks. In later years as young adults and adults, they may be prone to engage in obsessive activities because they may have learned the need to follow rules and keep the status quo as children. In general, children who successfully accomplish the tasks and overcome the challenges at the childhood stage develop a sense of confidence and security; those who fail may grow with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Erikson (1968) summed the child‟s identity at this stage as “I am what I can will freely” (p. 114).

At the initiative vs. guilt stage, the child begins to learn to take up roles by observing caregivers/parents as role models. This stage comprises children in their pre-school years, a time when they begin to explore the world around through play and other different social interactions with their peers. Children who are surrounded by supportive parents at this stage eventually develop a sense of purpose and the ability to take initiative in setting and attaining goals. Failure to successfully accomplish the tasks at this stage may result

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that this stage contributes to the child‟s identity development and adult tasks in later years when the child has the conviction that “I am what I can imagine I will be” (p. 122).

Industry vs. inferiority stage marks the early school years for children, a time when their social interaction circles also expand. As they interact with their peers through play, children are able to develop pride in their accomplishments and abilities, aspects that are necessary in the growth of their self-esteem as young adults. Caregivers at this stage include parents at home and teachers at school. Children who are surrounded by encouraging caregivers develop competency in the activities they undertake as they nurture and use their skills. Those who are surrounded by less supportive parents develop a sense of inferiority, a feeling that they are not capable or good at accomplishing given tasks.

Erikson (1968) proposed that identity vs. confusion marks the beginning of adolescence, a stage that is characterized by, among others, the development of a sense of self and independence from parents. Adolescents at this stage begin to develop an identity about their gender roles, occupations, and goals in their lives. This process also involves trying on different roles to determine areas of strengths and weaknesses. Inevitably, adolescents encounter crises (i.e., identity crisis) at different times while going through this stage. The process of identity crisis eventually may lead the adolescent into one of four main categories: identity achievement (involves crises and achievement), moratorium (involves crises and commitment at a later stage), foreclosure (involves

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