Ongoing Project:

Communicating Through Covid-19: Experiences of
Multilingual Families who are Refugees

Researchers: Andrea MacLeod1 and Lucero Vargas2
Affiliation: University of Alberta1 and Multicultural Health Brokers, Edmonton2
Research Partner: Multicultural Health Brokers, Edmonton
Keywords: refugee children, parents, language, communication development, developmental disability, home supports, Covid-19, the Alberta Development Language Questionnaire, Canadian Questionnaire of Use and Exposure in Bilinguals, grounded theory approach
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Objective: This study aims to understand refugee parents’ perspectives and expectations for their child’s language development and what they need to support their child’s communication development when interactions outside the household, including through school and daycare, are limited due to Covid-19.

Justification: Research shows that supporting children’s early communication development is essential to their long-term well-being, academic success, and full participation in daily activities. During Covid-19, refugee families are especially vulnerable as they often have limited social networks in the community, limited English proficiency, and now have limited support from outside the home. Understanding what “good communication development” means for linguistically and culturally diverse parents is an essential step to empowering families and providing supports that meet their needs.

Practical goal: to provide individualized suggestions of how to build moments for communication that can fit within daily routines of participating refugee families, furthering our understanding of how to provide support in the home, both during this pandemic and beyond.

Primary audience: service providers, educators, health providers, and refugee families


This study uses a grounded theory framework to gather a range of perspectives from refugee families. Eight families who are refugees with children and 6 who have a child, or children, with a developmental disability (e.g., autism, cerebral palsy, developmental language disorder) will be recruited.

              The study will also recruit multilingual youth community members to join the research team and conduct phone or video-chat interviews with participating parents. During the interview, two questionnaires will be administered: the Alberta Development Language Questionnaire and the Canadian Questionnaire of Use and Exposure in Bilinguals. The interview will also contain open-ended questions about parents’ perspectives and expectations for their child’s language development, their daily routines, and key parent-child interactions. Following the interview, the research team will develop and share individualized suggestions of how to build moments for communication with children into families’ daily routines. Within a month of delivering the suggestions, the brokers will ask families for feedback through a semi-structured interview, such as: were the suggestions useful and what would improve them? All interviews will be conducted in the parent’s language of greatest comfort and the themes that emerge from the interviews will be discussed with the multilingual research assistants to ensure that they correspond to the original, untranslated transcripts.

This study asks the following questions:

  1. For families who are refugees, what are their perspectives and expectations on language development?

  2. From the perspective of these parents, what do they need to support their child’s communication development?

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