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Refugee children and adolescents exhibit resilience despite a history of trauma. However, trauma can affect a refugee child’s emotional and behavioral development. Mental health providers should consider how the refugee experience (e.g., exposure to hunger, thirst, and lack of shelter; injury and illness; being a witness, victim, or perpetrator of violence; fleeing your home and country; separating from family; living in a refugee camp; resettling in a new country; and navigating between the new culture and the culture of origin) may contribute to a child or adolescent’s emotional or behavioral presentation in a clinic, school, or community setting.

When engaging refugee children and families in the treatment process:

  • Work to build trust with all family members, not only to increase the benefits of treatment, but also to ensure the family will accept your recommendations and referrals.
  • Listen to the family’s concerns, acknowledge the importance of their expressed primary problems, and address first the basic or most urgent needs.
  • Focus on aspects of the mental health services that relate to the family’s expressed values, such as supporting a child’s academic success.
  • When you are referring to other services, discuss what the resource can provide for the child or family and, if possible, facilitate the family’s contacting the referral.

The interventions listed below have been used within the NCTSN to address trauma among refugee youth and families.

Trauma Systems Therapy for Refugees

Individual, Family, Systems

TST-R is a comprehensive method for treating traumatic stress in children and adolescents that adds to individually-based approaches by specifically addressing social environmental/ system-of-care factors that are believed to be driving a child’s traumatic stress problems.