There are well established associations between children’s language, literacy and wellbeing in the general population. Several reasons for this overlap have been described. First it is likely that the areas of the brain that influence learning also influence emotion. Second, the relationship between learning and wellbeing is reciprocal and dynamic: learning influences subsequent wellbeing (Wade, DS) and well-being affects the extent to which learning occurs. Syrian refugee children represent a population at high risk for problems in both cognitive functioning and wellbeing. As victims of war refugee children have typically been exposed to high levels of threat and loss (resulting in compromised well-being), as well as disrupted schooling. Although there has been research on the relationship between learning and well-being in the general population, as well as some in new immigrants, the relationship between these two critical aspects of functioning in childhood has not been examined in refugee children. Do the high-levels of trauma and consequent anxiety impede refugee children’s capacity to learn language or begin to read? Does language proficiency protect children from the growth of further mental health problems?
The goals of this study are threefold. First we identify rates of cognitive and mental health problems among refugee children. Second, we examine the extent to which learning and mental health influence on another over time. Third, we identify parents’ concerns, service use and gaps in service with respect to children’s learning and well-being since arrival in Canada. 100 children are being recruited from newcomer agencies in Toronto, Manitoba and Guelph. These children are being visited at home on two occasions one year apart. Well-established and psychometrically valid measures, translated into Arabic, that assess children’s mental health, language and literacy are utilized. Parents will be interviewed using semi-structured interview methodology to understand received services and service requirements. This is a collaborative project between the language and literacy and the well-being groups in the Child and Youth Refugee Research Coalition (CYRRC).