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Living in the present with the past: mental health of Bosnian refugee children in Sweden
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Clinical Sciences, Child and Adolescence Psychiatry.
2008 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The negative impact of war on child mental health has been repeatedly documented. Still, the majority of children exposed to ethnic and political violence show no signs of clinical disorder. In Western countries of exile, these findings have prompted a variety of attempts to evaluate refugee children, in the hope of identifying and offering support to those children “at risk”. This study critically examines one such attempt. The aims are fourfold: 1. to describe the range and pattern of child trauma-stress exposure and mental health reactions as captured on clinician semi-structured interview; 2. to critically compare clinician assessment with independent parent, child and teacher reports; 3. to identify factors of potential risk or protective import for child mental health; 4. to draw clinical implications: from whom and by what means can children at risk be reasonably identified?

The target of our study was the entire population of Bosnian-Serbian-Croatian speaking child refugee families assigned to Umeå and surrounding municipalities during 1994-95. Fifty families, containing 90 children aged one month to 20 years, were included in the study. Assessment occurred in two phases. First, a semi-structured interview was conducted that inquired broadly as to the child’s family background, trauma-stress exposure, emotional-behavioral problems, patterns of family functioning, and future hopes. Second, standardized self-report questionnaires were administered, separately to parent and child, to provide alternative appraisal of the child’s war exposure, mental health symptoms, coping strategies, and social network. Teacher evaluation of child cognitive-social functioning as well as emotional-behavioral problems was also obtained.

Clinician semi-structured interview revealed the child’s pre-war period as preponderantly good, and provided richly detailed narratives of child exposure during war and resettlement that clustered into a limited number of type-stories. Independent parent assessment captured the same broad strokes of child war exposure; but both approaches – fixed questionnaire and semi-structured interview – showed specific areas of blindness. Teenage self-report offered a disparate but equally rich account of war exposure, while that of primary school child was significantly less detailed.

Nearly half of the study children (48%) were identified on clinician interview with one or more mental health problem “demanding further attention”. Depressiveness was the single most prevalent symptom (31%), followed by posttraumatic reactions (23%) and anxiety-regressiveness (15%). Independent symptom appraisal by parent and primary school child was largely concordant with that of clinician, while teenagers made similar assessment as to who was in distress, but defined the nature of that distress differently. Teacher report stood apart, identifying fewer inward emotional problems and asserting the cognitive-social competence of the vast majority of study children.

Trauma-stress exposure during both war and resettlement presented as an unequivocal risk to mental health, but accounted for only part of outcome variance. Additional factors of strong import related broadly to “living in the present”. Parent impairment of daily routines, child dissatisfaction with school and an ongoing quarrelsome relationship presented as risk factors. Protection was associated with parent maintenance of a warm family climate and of concrete physical-emotional caring, child social ties to physically present others, including teacher; and above all, a family sense of hope for the future.

Results support the general robustness of our semi-structured approach. Exploring the child’s present well-being in narrative relation to past and future, our assessment captured and gave meaning to the complexity of child exposure and behavior. At the same time, independent parent and child appraisals provided an additional richness to the retelling and evaluation of child experience. Particularly the apartness of teacher report underscores the need to incorporate an outside-world vantage point in the process of risk assessment.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Barn- och ungdomspsykiatri , 2008. , 159 p.
Series
Umeå University medical dissertations, ISSN 0346-6612 ; 1213
Keyword [en]
child and adolescent, refugee, multiple informants, war, traumatic events, mental health, PTSD, risk factors, social network, family, coping
National Category
Psychiatry
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-1896ISBN: 978-91-7264-651-3 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-1896DiVA: diva2:142344
Public defence
2008-11-14, Sal B, 1D, 9tr, Tandläkarhögskolan, Umeå, 09:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2008-10-29 Created: 2008-10-29 Last updated: 2010-01-18Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Stories of pre-war, war and exile: Bosnian refugee children in Sweden
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Stories of pre-war, war and exile: Bosnian refugee children in Sweden
2001 (English)In: Medicine, conflict and survival, ISSN 1362-3699, Vol. 17, no 1, 25-47 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-3573 (URN)
Available from: 2008-10-29 Created: 2008-10-29 Last updated: 2010-05-28Bibliographically approved
2. Child war trauma: a comparison of clinician, parent and child assessments
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Child war trauma: a comparison of clinician, parent and child assessments
2003 (English)In: Nordic journal of psychiatry, ISSN 0803-9488, Vol. 57, no 3, 173-183 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-3574 (URN)
Available from: 2008-10-29 Created: 2008-10-29 Last updated: 2010-05-28Bibliographically approved
3. Mental health of Bosnian refugee children: a comparison of clinician appraisal with parent, child and teacher reports
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Mental health of Bosnian refugee children: a comparison of clinician appraisal with parent, child and teacher reports
2008 (English)In: Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, ISSN 0803-9488, E-ISSN 1502-4725, Vol. 62, no 3, 204-216 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study compares clinician appraisal of Bosnian refugee children with independent parent, child and teacher reports. From whom and by what means can children “at risk” be reasonably identified? Forty-eight Bosnian refugee children (aged 7–20), resettled in Sweden 1994–95, were assessed clinically by means of a semi-structured interview. Thereafter, standardized mental health questionnaires were administered to parents (Achenbach's Child Behavior Checklist), children (Achenbach's Youth Self-Report and Macksoud's Posttraumatic Stress Reaction Checklist) and teachers (clinician designed School Competence Scale and Achenbach's Teacher's Report Form). On clinician interview, nearly half of the children (48%) were identified with one or more mental health problem “demanding further attention”. Depressiveness was the single most prevalent symptom (31%); followed by post-traumatic stress (23%), and anxiety-regressiveness (15%). At the same time, 75% of the children were rated by teachers as “quite competent” in school. Parent, child and clinician appraisals of primary school children showed broad similarities. Teachers reported a similar prevalence of child distress, but identified different symptoms and different children demanding attention. Evaluation of teenage youths showed greater disparity: teenagers labeled their own symptoms more often as post-traumatic stress reactions and teachers identified few youths in need of attention. Inter-relatedness among parent, child and clinician appraisals supports the robustness of our semi-structured interview. At the same time, apartness of teacher report underscores the need to incorporate an outside-world vantage point in the process of risk assessment. Also, a more concrete presentation of post-traumatic stress reactions and a higher “further attention” threshold for inward emotional problems seem called for.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 2008
Keyword
Children and adolescents, mental health, multiple informants, PTSD, refugees
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-3575 (URN)10.1080/08039480801983604 (DOI)18622884 (PubMedID)
Available from: 2008-10-29 Created: 2008-10-29 Last updated: 2011-03-29Bibliographically approved
4. Risk and protective factors for mental health in Bosnian refugee children
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Risk and protective factors for mental health in Bosnian refugee children
(English)Manuscript (Other academic)
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-3576 (URN)
Available from: 2008-10-29 Created: 2008-10-29 Last updated: 2010-05-28Bibliographically approved

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