School and Community Resources and the Social-Emotional and Academic Adjustment of Refugee Children

Researchers: Martin Guhn, Monique Gagne, Anne Gadermann, Scott Emerson, and Randip Gill
Affiliation: Human Early Learning Partnership, University of British Columbia
Keywords: refugee children, first generation, second generation, social-emotional adjustment, social contexts, community resources, school supports, academic adjustment, neighbourhood, well-being, resilience, Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI), quantitative research, British Columbia
Jump to: Full Infographic, Methodology, Findings, Publications & Reports


Objective: This study examined how neighbourhood, school, and community resources were associated with refugee children’s social-emotional and academic adjustment. The sample comprised of first- and second- generation refugee children who were respondents to a survey of well-being (the Middle Years Development Instrument; MDI) in British Columbia.

Justification: Refugee children are thought to face multiple, intersecting challenges associated with pre-migration trauma and post-migration adaption struggles. However, much of the research pertaining to the well-being of refugees has focused on specific psychiatric symptomatology and challenges; few studies have looked at how our communities can support the adjustment needs of refugee children.

Practical goal: to further our understanding of the specific ways in which neighbourhood, school, and family/ personal resources are associated with the social-emotional adjustment of refugee children.

Primary audience: service providers, educators, refugee families, policy makers, and the public.

Executive Summary

Full Infographic


This study used data from a population-based data linkage that included migration-related information from the Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Permanent Residents file, grade 4 academic scores (numeracy/ literacy) from the Ministry of Education’s Foundation Skills Assessment data, and self-report survey data (social support, well-being, school experiences, personal relationships) from the Human Early Learning Partnership’s Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI). Using these datasets, the researchers looked at 850 refugee children (214 were first generation, 636 second generation) who attended grade 4 between 2009-2016 in any of the ten largest school districts in B.C. 


This study points to the importance of social support at the neighbourhood-, school-, and family/person-level for supporting refugee children’s social-emotional adjustment. A consistent pattern from this study indicates that refugee children who felt supported by teachers and other adults in school and at home, as well as by their peers, experienced better social-emotional adjustment.

Neighbourhood Resources:

  • Residing in a low-income neighbourhood was related to lower numeracy and literacy scores for both first- and second-generation refugee children

School Resources:

  • Higher levels of support from adults at school was related to higher levels of life satisfaction, self-esteem, and lower levels of sadness for first- and second-generation refugee children
  • A supportive school climate was associated with higher levels of life satisfaction, optimism, and self-esteem.

Family/ Personal Resources:

  • Children from families receiving subsidized health insurance had lower literacy scores
  • Higher levels of support from adults at home was related to higher levels of life satisfaction, optimism, and self-esteem, as well as lower levels of sadness
  • Peer belonging was related to higher levels of life satisfaction, optimism, and self-esteem, as well as lower levels of sadness and anxiety
  • Having experienced bullying was related to higher levels of sadness and anxiety

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