This research sought to address the lack of knowledge regarding the sense of belonging felt by refugee children and parents in early childhood educational and recreational settings. Assessments of integration often center on financial independence from government assistance and refugees’ access to rights and services. Sustainable integration, however, is much broader than economic participation; long-term integration consists of social, economic, cultural, and political participation in the host country while maintaining a relationship with the country of origin. Belonging has been conceptualized as a sense of attachment to people or places or an individual-level process of becoming familiar or “at home” in a particular setting; for refugees, this is the extent to which one feels like he or she is an accepted part of, that is, belongs to and in the new country.
This pilot study documented experiences of refugee children, parents and staff at Camp Cosmos during the 6-week program in summer 2018. Camp Cosmos was founded in 1971 in Montreal to provide children from diverse social, economic and cultural backgrounds with a safe and fun environment to play, learn and grow.
The main research questions of the study were:
- How has participation in Camp Cosmos shaped experiences of social belonging for refugee children, youth, and parents?
- How do refugee children, youth, and parents think about belonging?
- In what ways do community organizations facilitate social integration for refugees?
This participatory research study laid the groundwork for larger research projects to explore refugee children’s recreational experiences in different resettlement sites across Canada.
Participants’ perspectives highlighted the Camp’s strengths and key benefits for children, their families and the communities in which they live. These perspectives also identified areas of improvement to continue growing and adapting to the ever-changing needs of the Montreal society. These findings highlight the importance of recreational activities for refugee integration. Integration is a year-round process; thus, initiatives should be offered to refugee children in the summer outside the academic year. Recreation initiatives such as summer camps can provide opportunities for children to improve their new language literacy, learn Canadian norms, and developing friendships which contribute to overall belonging; this integration could be expanded to engage parents. Children have greater opportunities to engage with a new society, language, culture, etc. than their parents; however, integration of children is not entirely successful if their parents are isolated at home.