Background: Adolescent refugees face many challenges but also have the potential for resilience. The purpose of this study was to identify and characterize the protective agents, resources, and mechanisms that promote their psychosocial well-being.
Methods: Participants included a purposively sampled group of 73 Burundian and Liberian refugee adolescents and their families who had recently resettled in Boston and Chicago. The adolescents, families, and their service providers participated in a two-year longitudinal study using ethnographic methods and grounded theory analysis with Atlas/ti software. A grounded theory model was developed which describes those persons or entities who act to protect adolescents (Protective Agents), their capacities for doing so (Protective Resources), and how they do it (Protective Mechanisms).
Protective agents are the individuals, groups, organizations, and systems that can contribute either directly or indirectly to promoting adolescent refugees’ psychosocial well-being. Protective resources are the family and community capacities that can promote psychosocial well-being in adolescent refugees. Protective mechanisms are the processes fostering adolescent refugees’ competencies and behaviors that can promote their psychosocial well-being.
Results: Eight protective resources were identified that appeared to promote psychosocial well-being in the adolescent refugees. These included 1) finances for necessities; 2) English proficiency; 3) social support networks; 4) engaged parenting; 5) family cohesion; 6) cultural adherence and guidance; 7) educational support; and 8) faith and religious involvement. Nine protective agents were identified. These included: 1) friends and peers; 2) parents; 3) older siblings; 4) extended family members; 5) school teachers, staff, and coaches; 6) church staff and congregants; 7) resettlement agency caseworkers and activity leaders; 8) volunteers, and 9) health and mental health providers.
Conclusions: To further promote the psychosocial well-being of adolescent refugees, targeted prevention focused policies and programs are needed to enhance the identified protective agents, resources, and mechanisms. Because resilience works through protective mechanisms, greater attention should be paid to understanding how to enhance them through new programs and practices, especially informational and developmental protective mechanisms.