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Protective factors for social-emotional well-being of refugee children in the first three years of settlement in Australia


Aim This longitudinal study investigated protective factors for social-emotional well-being in refugee children in Australia.

Methods Newly arrived refugee children aged 4–15 years were recruited between 2009 and 2013 and assessments were conducted at two points, at years 2 and 3 postarrival. Social-emotional well-being was assessed using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Protective factors were assessed by structured interview and the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS); scores <150 reflect fewer stressful life events in the previous year.

Results Forty-three eligible refugee children were recruited. The SDQ was completed by parents in 90% and protective factor data in 80% at years 2 and 3 of follow-up. Protective factors for normal SDQ scores were: originating from Africa (p=0.01), father present on arrival (p=0.019) and family SRRS scores <150 at year 2 (p=0.045). The median number of protective factors was 4 (range 1–8). Better SDQ scores were associated with ≥4 protective factors (p<0.006). Furthermore, more protective factors increased the child’s likelihood of a stable or improved SDQ score over time (p<0.04). Modifiable protective factors likely to promote social-emotional well-being include stability in the child’s school and residence, parental employment, financial and marital stability, proximity to one’s own ethnic community and external community support.

Conclusions Cumulative protective factors, some of which are potentially modifiable, can predict social-emotional well-being in newly arrived refugee children. Children with four or more protective factors are at low risk of poor social-emotional well-being.

  • refugee child
  • risk factors
  • protective factors
  • social-emotional wellbeing
  • strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ)
  • longitudinal cohort

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