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Social-Emotional Development in Refugee Children and Families

Researchers: Tina Malti1, Tyler Colasante1, Redab Al-Janaideh1, Mona Aboumrad2, Fariborz Birjandian3, Jill Edgington Kirby3, Sarah Wayland4, Mohammed Aref4, Ali T. Ghouse5, Uzma Qureshi5, Ghazal Jessani6, Danah Elsayed7, Arsim Aliu8, Fariha Ali8, Abdillahi Abdi9, Wahed Al-Jabry9, Yusuf Kfaween10, Laura Rosella1, Maarya Abdulkarim1, Shahd Fulath Khan1, Salwa Yaghi1, Layla Akel1, and Nirma Jbara1.
Affiliations: University of Toronto1, University of Calgary2, Calgary Catholic Immigration Society3, Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council4, Muslim Council of Greater Hamilton5, McMaster University6, University of Guelp7, YMCA of Hamilton, Burlington, and Brantford8, Hamilton Downtown mosque9, Hamilton Islamic school10
Research Partners: KDE Hub, Muslim Council of Greater Hamilton, YMCA of Hamilton, Burlington, and Brantford, and Calgary Catholic Immigration Society
Keywords: refugee children and families, Middle East, service providers, needs assessment, community research, strengths-based, mental health, wellbeing, trauma, social-emotional training, quantitative and qualitative methods
Jump to: InfographicsMethodology,Findings, Video, Publications


Overview: This study conducted a needs assessment with Middle Eastern refugee families and service providers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area (GTHA). In response to the needs identified, the research team implemented and assessed a virtual social-emotional training initiative for refugee caregivers and service providers in the GTHA and Calgary, Alberta.

Objective: understand the needs, challenges, and strengths of Middle Eastern refugee children and families; build capacity of caregivers and service providers to support protective factors in refugee children and in themselves; and assess a strengths-based social-emotional training program for caregivers and service providers.

Research Justification: As a result of pre- and post-migration traumas, Middle Eastern refugee families experience disproportionately high social-emotional and mental health challenges, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Infographics – English


Needs Assessment

Centre for Child Development, Mental Health and Policy

Understanding Displacement, Resettlement, and Resilience in Refugee and Migrant Families Resettling in Canada

Infographics – French

Centre for Child Development, Mental Health and Policy

Infographics – Arabic


Needs Assessment

Centre for Child Development, Mental Health and Policy

Understanding Displacement, Resettlement, and Resilience in Refugee and Migrant Families Resettling in Canada


In the first stage of research, the researcher team conducted a community-based needs assessment with 10 Middle Eastern refugee caregivers and 17 refugee service providers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Areas (GTHA). The needs assessment identified needs, challenges, and strengths —highlighting adaptive capacities and points of service that may be leveraged to promote wellbeing and positive resettlement. Based on these findings, a virtual training initiative that supported caregiver and children’s social-emotional development was implemented. Twenty-six refugee caregivers of children ages 2-12 and 24 service providers from the GTHA and Calgary, Alberta participated in the three-week training. The training was evaluated using a pre-, post-, and two-month follow-up design. Caregivers and service providers reported their understanding of social-emotional concepts, use of training strategies, and mental health at each evaluation time point. Caregivers also reported their children’s social-emotional capacities and mental health at each time point.


Needs, challenges, and strengths of refugee caregivers and service providers included:

  • Caregivers reported persistent mental health issues, lack of support from extended family, and challenges preserving cultural values.
  • Caregivers’ strengths included their supportive parenting, optimism about the future, and spousal and community support.
  • Challenges around service provision included the discontinuation of mental health services, service distrust among refugees, and low service uptake.
  • Service providers’ strengths lay in resettlement and mental health support and inter-agency collaboration.

The training evaluation showed that caregivers’ and service providers’ knowledge of social-emotional concepts increased significantly after the training.

  • Caregivers and service providers both reported high levels of training strategy use to promote their own and children’s wellbeing.
  • Increases in caregiver and service provider knowledge were associated with decreases in their own depression symptoms.
  • Two markers of children’s social-emotional development (i.e., emotion regulation and sadness over wrongdoing) improved after the training.
  • Service providers’ knowledge increase was sustained at the two-month follow-up.

These findings highlight the potential of strengths-based social-emotional trainings to support caregivers’ and service providers’ in providing high-quality social-emotional care to themselves and refugee children.


University of Toronto-KDE hub Introductory Video

This video provides a brief overview of the project and the knowledge mobilization activities that followed

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