Ongoing Project:

Using Community-Based Research to Develop a Contextually, Culturally, and Developmentally Sensitive Model of Refugee Resilience

Researchers: Amanda Sim1, Kathy Georgiades1, Dalhit Garry2, Marion Trent-Kratz3, and Eve Puffer4
Affiliation: Offord Centre for Child Studies, McMaster University1, Wesley Urban Ministries2, Children’s Services and Neighbourhood Development, City of Hamilton3, and Duke University4
Research Partner: Wesley Urban Ministries
Keywords: refugees, children, youth, families, resilience, wellbeing, mental health, health promotion and prevention, interventions, services, participatory research


Objective: This study aims to develop a culturally sensitive model of refugee children and youth resilience that will inform the development and delivery of mental health interventions for refugees.

Justification: Refugee children and youth are exposed to significant pre- and post-resettlement challenges that threaten their mental health and wellbeing, yet many demonstrate remarkable resilience in their ability to adapt and thrive. However, our understanding of the mechanisms and processes underlying resilience among refugee children and youth remains nascent.

Practical goal: This study will develop a contextually, culturally, and developmentally sensitive model of refugee resilience to inform the design and delivery and mental health promotion and prevention interventions.

Primary audience: service providers, government partners, policy makers, academics, and refugee families.


The study will use a community-based participatory research design. The sample will be purposively selected from families that have arrived in the past two years from Iraq and Syria, as they make up the majority of refugees resettled in Hamilton since 2015. The research team will conduct 6-8 focus groups with refugee caregivers and youth aged 12-17 years; participants will also complete a brief survey to collect demographic data and information about their pre- and post-resettlement experiences. Second, preliminary focus groups findings and participant survey data will inform theoretical sampling of a subsample of 10-15 caregiver and youth to serve as information-rich cases for in-depth individual interviews. Finally, key informant interviews with 10-15 service providers will be conducted to identify gaps and challenges with current mental health promotion and prevention efforts. Grounded theory will be used to analyze the data and construct a contextually, culturally, and developmentally sensitive model of resilience that is based on the lived experiences of refugee children, youth, and families.

This study asks the following questions:

  1. How do refugee youth and caregivers conceptualize mental and emotional well-being within their particular socio-cultural context?

  2. How do individual, family, community, and other socio-ecological processes interact to influence the mental health of refugee children and youth?

  3. What strengths and resources to refugee youth, caregivers, and families draw on to overcome challenges and thrive in their new setting?

  4. What barriers do refugee youth, caregivers, and families experiencing in accessing and engaging in existing services, and what interventions do they identify as most relevant to their social-emotional needs?

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