Despite some struggles with mental health issues, refugee children are capable of achieving similar academic success as non-refugee children if adequately supported, according to a new comprehensive review published in the journal Pediatrics.
And while emotional and behavioral problems were more common among refugee children, particularly those under the age of 10, the findings show that internalized issues, such as anxiety and depression, were more prevalent than external outbursts that affect classmates, such as aggression or hyperactivity.
“Despite the thousands of refugees resettled annually, there isn’t a lot of research exploring learning challenges of refugee children and no research at all on autism spectrum disorder, language impairments or dyslexia,” said Dr. Ripudaman Minhas, an author of the study and a developmental pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital.
“However, the existing evidence suggests that children of refugee backgrounds have the potential to perform just as well as their peers when provided with supportive resources and even have similar rates of high school completion.”
Researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital and the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, looked at data from 34 studies on learning difficulties in refugee children to identify gaps in knowledge, risk factors for lower academic outcomes and resources for success.
They found tremendous gaps — especially in early childhood data — with almost no research on refugee children in low and middle-income countries, despite 86 percent of refugees settling in those areas.
The researchers discovered that faculty in both primary and secondary schools tend to have lower expectations of refugee children. They also found that academic success among refugee children was almost always associated with supportive peer relationships; however, refugee children have quite a bit of difficulty forming such relationships and frequently experience bullying, racism, and discrimination.
There is also a higher incidence of attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) in refugee children whose parents experienced trauma, compared to those whose parents did not experience trauma. Approximately 90 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD also met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
With the arrival of 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada, many of them children, Minhas said it’s important for communities to be aware that a child’s experiences in early life significantly affect development potential, relationships, and their ability to navigate and succeed in society.
“Many refugees settled in developing or developed countries have fled situations of war, discrimination or trauma — often void of basic human rights, including consistent access to education,” said Minhas.
“Although it’s clear that refugee children’s pre-migration experiences influence their learning and can cause difficulties, some of the most important factors for success occur in the post-migration environment, many of which can be addressed in the country of settlement.”
For educators, Minhas emphasizes that refugee children be monitored and supported in light of any traumatic experiences they may have encountered. They also encourage two-way communication between educators and students for increased academic success.
Source: St. Michael’s Hospital