Loss and Protracted Family Separation among Refugee Children and Youth: Examining Post-migration Impacts and Service Needs

Researchers: AKM Alamgir1, Serena Nudel1, Amjed Abojedi1, Kwame McKenzie2, Michaela Hynie5, Manolli Ekra4, and Branka Agic5 
Affiliation: Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services1, Wellesley Institute2, York University3, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)4, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)5
Research Partner:
Access Alliance, OCASI, Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT), Across Boundaries, FCJ Refugee Centre
Keywords: refugee, youth, children, loss, separation, policy, advocacy, family separation and loss, social determinants of health, protracted separation, wellbeing, mental health, PTSD, trauma
Go to: Full Infographic, Methodology, Findings, Knowledge Mobilization, Video, Publications & Reports  


Overview: This study combined findings from a scoping review with experiential data from refugee youth and service providers to summarize evidence about the impacts of family loss and separation on refugee youth. The research team developed a list of resources for refugee youth, a practitioner toolkit for conducting research with refugee youth, and a policy statement.

Objective: To explore how family loss and separation affect refugee young and to identify policies and services that support the wellbeing of these youth.

Research Justification: Refugee youth who have been separated from their families comprise a socially vulnerable population. The barriers they face in accessing social and healthcare services escalates their trauma. Despite the rising number of refugee children and youth who are “unaccompanied” or “separated” worldwide, there is limited evidence on how loss and separation of family members due to war and forced migration affect their wellbeing and post-migration settlement.

Infographic Excerpt

Full Infographic

Executive Summary


The research team took a multi-phase sequential approach, starting with a scoping review of peer-reviewed articles from three high-impact databases and open-source journals. Articles were collected using a snowball sampling technique. The PRISMA-ScR approach was used to narrow down the sample size. Reflexive thematic analysis of data was conducted using the NVivo software. The team then collected firsthand data through five focus group discussions with service providers and refugee youth who had experienced family loss or separation. A collaborative data analysis model was practiced to triangulate data from the three sources.

The research team trained three youth with experience of forced migration to join the team as co-researchers. This provided a valuable capacity building opportunity for refugee youth.


Mental health challenges are common among refugee youth who experience family loss or separation. PTSD was the most prevalent mental health concern, followed by depression and anxiety.


Knowledge Mobilization (KMb)

The research team developed a toolkit with resources for conducting research with refugee youth. The toolkit contains a peer researcher training handbook to help facilitate the process of bringing refugee youth onto the research team. It contains tools for conducting a scooping review, data management and analysis, risk prediction management, recruitment, and the informed consent process. It also contains discussion scripts and tips for conducting focus groups, and a section on how to conduct focus groups over Zoom. Finally, the toolkit contains resources to help formulate a knowledge mobilization plan.

The research team compiled a resource list of services for refugee youth in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, and services available nationally. The list was co-designed by the research team and participating refugee youth, their guardians, service providers, and staff from relevant community organizations. The resource list will help refugee youth and service providers identify services for refugee youth and how to connect with those services.

A policy document was compiled by one of the refugee peer-researchers and a law professional to advocate for changes to Canadian policy regarding refugees. The document provides evidence-informed policy recommendations.

The research team, with help from filmmakers from York University, put together a video to capture their findings. This video illustrates some of the challenges the refugee youth who have experienced family loss and separation face as part of their settlement journey in Canada.

Explore more projects

Go to Top