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Looking beyond: complex holistic care needs of Syrian and Iraqi refugee children and adolescents

Abstract

Objective Protracted international conflict has seen escalating numbers of displaced and resettled Syrian and Iraqi refugees, raising concerns for their health and well-being. This paper describes the demographic and clinical profiles of recently resettled Syrian and Iraqi refugee children and adolescents across physical, psychosocial, developmental and educational domains using standardised multidisciplinary assessments.

Design A cross-sectional observational study was undertaken of initial specialist paediatric multidisciplinary Refugee Health Service assessments completed at the tertiary paediatric hospital (Western Australia) between June 2015 and September 2019.

Results Three hundred and twenty-seven children and adolescents (264 Syrian, 63 Iraqi) were assessed following resettlement. Witnessed trauma (86%) and disclosed adversity (median Refugee Adverse Childhood Experiences score 3, range 1–14) were universally high. Almost all patients had health issues identified across physical (99%), psychosocial (76%) and developmental/educational (75%) domains. Interrupted education (65%) and death of a family member (16%) were significantly associated with psychological morbidities. Common comorbidities included dental caries (78%), non-infectious disease (76%), vitamin D deficiency (72%), malnutrition (46%; overweight/obesity 23%), and psychological (32%; post-traumatic stress disorder 4.3%) and developmental (9.5%) concerns. Emerging and alarming child protection concerns were prevalent (17%), with females demonstrating especially high risks.

Conclusion This is the largest comprehensive study demonstrating the complex and cross-dimensional health needs and specific vulnerabilities of resettled Syrian and Iraqi refugee children and adolescents. Early comprehensive standardised multidisciplinary paediatric assessments, and culturally safe, trauma-informed interventions and follow-up are required to optimise resettlement outcomes and promote well-being.

  • paediatrics
  • adolescent health
  • global health
  • child development
  • child protective services

Data availability statement

Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available. These data are not in a repository (eg, deidentified hospital data) within the Child and Adolescent Health Service (CAHS), Perth, Western Australia.

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