Risks and Opportunities of Growing Up as Refugees

Ha Yeon Kim, Lindsay Brown

Introduction: The world currently faces the largest refugee crisis since WWII[1]. Lebanon alone, a nation of approximately 4 million citizens, is sheltering over 1 million registered Syrian refugees. The increasing population of refugee children faces significant social-emotional and mental health problems that can hamper learning[2]. An understanding of social-emotional and academic risk factors and their pathways could prove instrumental in mitigating these risks; however rigorous research in conflict-afflicted regions is rare[3]. In the context of a just-launched randomized-controlled trial of educational and social-emotional programming, this study evaluates contextual risk factors and examines the role of social-emotional processes (internalizing symptoms, task orientation, executive function) as pathways related to basic literacy and numeracy skills of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.

Methods: This study utilizes data from 4,344 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon (age 5-16). Data are collected using reliable and contextually-valid measures of children’s: (1) basic literacy and numeracy (direct assessment)[4] (2) internalizing symptoms (self-report)[5] (3) task orientation (assessor observation)[6], and (4) executive function (teacher report)[7]. Contextual risks included in the analysis are school/residential instability and parents’ literacy level. Grade, age, gender, and family resources were utilized as controls.

Results: Preliminary SEM models suggest that children with higher parent literacy (total effect (TE) b=1.83, p<.001) have significantly higher literacy. This relation was fully mediated by internalizing symptoms (indirect effect (IE) b=.06, p<.01), task orientation (IE b=.34, p<.001), and executive function (IE b=1.34, p<.001). Parent literacy was also a positive predictor of children’s numeracy (TE b=.07, p<.001) and was partially mediated by task orientation (IE b=.02, p<.001). Surprisingly, we found no relations among school or residential instability with literacy or numeracy.

Conclusion: Findings contribute to identifying subgroups at risk and potential mechanisms of change for Syrian refugee children’s social-emotional and academic development. We will discuss implications of findings for design and implementation of contextually-appropriate and evidence-based humanitarian prevention and intervention efforts to strengthen executive function and mental health among the refugee population.

1. Khoury, 2016

2. UNICEF, 2016

3. Burde, Guven, Kelcey, Lahmann, & Al-Abbadi, 2015

4. Early Grade Reading Assessment & Early Grade Math Assessment: RTI International, 2009a, 2009b

5. Moods & Feelings Questionnaire, Tavitian et al., 2014

6. Self-Regulation Assessment Assessor Report: Smith-Donald et al., 2007 [1] Brain Games Executive Function Teacher Survey: Jones, unpublished manuscript

This abstract was submitted to the 2017 Society for Prevention Research Annual Meeting.

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