Nine-Year Outcomes for Young Middle Eastern Refugees Living in Denmark

Millions of children and youths around the world have become refugees from war, persecution, and ethnic cleansing. Many of the young refugees have been accepted for resettlement in host countries. To optimize care for young refugees, it is important to evaluate their functioning in host countries and to identify factors associated with good versus poor functioning. In a study of 131 Middle Eastern refugees living in Denmark, Edith Montgomery (2010) used data from the refugees themselves and from their parents to test associations of psychopathology with a variety of potential risk and protective factors. Obtained when the refugees were 11 to 23 years old, the outcome measures included the YSR and Young Adult Self-Report (YASR-the predecessor of the Adult Self-Report) and the CBCL and Young Adult Behavior Checklist (YABCL-the predecessor to the Adult Behavior Checklist) completed by the refugees’ parents. Respondents could choose to complete either Arabic or Danish translations of the ASEBA forms.

The outcome measures also included the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (SADS), a semistructured interview that yields DSM diagnoses. Information was obtained on parents’ educational level, family structure and relationships, traumatic events before exile, and stressful events while in Denmark. Based on problems reported at arrival in Denmark 8 to 9 years earlier and outcome ASEBA scores in the combined borderline and clinical ranges, the youths were divided into the following four groups for analysis: (a) “spared”-unproblematic at arrival and follow-up; (b) “reacting”-unproblematic at arrival but problematic at follow-up; (c) “adapted”-problematic at arrival but not at follow-up; (d) “traumatized”- problematic at arrival and at follow-up. As only 3.1% of the youths qualified for Group b, only Groups a, c, and d were statistically compared. Montgomery found that the traumatized youths (Group d) had significantly more kinds of traumatic experiences prior to arrival than the spared youths (Group a). The traumatized youths had also experienced significantly more kinds of stressful events after arrival in Denmark than the adapted youths (Group c). Significant protective factors were length of father’s education in the home country, youth’s current attendance at school or work, and speaking frequently with mother about problems. Montgomery concluded that “The cumulative effect of traumatic experiences . . . seems more important than the effect of specific experiences related to war and organized violence” (p. 485) and that experiencing many kinds of stressful life events after arrival worked against recovery from psychological problems related to the youths’ traumatic past.

Reference: Montgomery, E. (2010). Trauma and resilience in young refugees: A 9-year follow-up study. Development and Psychopathology, 22, 477-489.