Adversity and resilience amongst resettling Western Australian paediatric refugees

Author(s): Gemma HANES ; Lydia SUNG ; Raewyn MUTCH ; Sarah CHERIAN



Cumulative adverse childhood experiences have long-term consequences and may manifest within and influence health, educational and psychosocial domains. The Princess Margaret Hospital Refugee Health Service (RHS) undertakes multidisciplinary screening of refugee children <16 years, allowing standardised identification of negative childhood experiences. Addition of the extended Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) in 2014 aimed to augment psychological assessment of this cohort.


An audit of prospectively collected standardised RHS proformas, health records and initial and 6-month follow-up SDQs for new patients aged 2–16 years between August 2014 and January 2016 was undertaken. Wider refugee adverse childhood experiences (R-ACE) were also captured.


Initial SDQ data were obtained from 204 patients (mean age 9.2 ± SD 4.4 years) with 143 follow-up SDQs available. One third (37.3%) had at least one psychological symptom identified based on initial screening proforma. Multiple R-ACE were disclosed with 126 of 201 (62.7%) experiencing ≥3. African ethnicity, age >10 years, separation anxiety on initial proforma and no formal parental education were associated with higher R-ACE. Initial SDQ results varied with age/ethnicity; however, peer problem scores were consistently elevated. Total difficulty SDQ scores did not capture psychopathology at expected frequencies. Improvement in follow-up SDQ results were appreciated for children aged 4–10 years. Most patients (80.2%) disclosed improvement in health status following RHS involvement.


Refugee children have complex backgrounds with exposure to multiple traumatic events. Comprehensive standardised health and psychological screening is recommended to target intervention. Further validation of culturally age-appropriate mental health screening tools in this diverse population is required.

Tags: Australia, Refugees, Children, Adolescents, Youth, Childhood adversity, Resilience, Trauma,Traumatic life events, Screening

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