The Impact of Refugee Mothers’ Trauma, Posttraumatic Stress, and Depression on Their Children’s Adjustment

Author(s): Patricia L. EAST ; Sheila GAHAGAN ; Wael K. AL-DELAIMY


The mechanisms linking refugee parents’ trauma onto their children’s functioning are not well understood. The current study sought to identify how Somali refugee mothers’ past trauma and current mental health impact their children’s psychosocial adjustment. One hundred and ninety-eight Somali mothers (M age = 39 years) and their children (M age = 10 years; 56% male) were studied. On average, mothers spent 7 years in refugee camps, experienced significant trauma, and some had been tortured. Measures of mothers’ posttraumatic stress and depression were analyzed as three symptom clusters: volatility/panic, withdrawn/detached, and depressed mood. Most children were born in the U.S. and their indirect exposure to trauma was statistically controlled. Results from structural equation modeling indicated that there was no direct association between trauma of the mother and their children’s well-being, however, mothers’ posttraumatic stress and depressive symptoms significantly mediated the effects of mothers’ past torture on their children’s adjustment—a pattern indicative of intergenerational traumatization. Findings enhance our understanding of how refugees’ traumatization lingers and possibly affects their and their children’s health and well-being.


Somali refugees; Refugee trauma; Intergenerational traumatization; Transmission of trauma; Children of refugees 

Tags: Somalia, United States, Refugees, Women, Children, Families, Motherhood, Transgenerational transmission, Traumatic life events, Trauma exposure

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