Refugee children and their health, development and well-being over the first year of settlement: A longitudinal study.


AIM: This study aimed to describe refugee children, their families and settlement characteristics, and how their development and social-emotional well-being change over time. METHODS: We conducted a longitudinal study of 61 refugee children (6 months to 15 years) in an Australian setting, over 2009-2013 and measured child, family and settlement factors as well as physical health, development and social-emotional well-being (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, SDQ). RESULTS: Questionnaires were completed with parents of 54 (89%) children at year 2 and 52 (100%) at year 3. Forty percent of parents had low levels of education, 30% of fathers were absent on arrival, 13% of children were born in refugee camps and 11% of parents self-disclosed previous trauma. Over time, there was increased parental employment (P = 0.001), improved English proficiency for partners (P = 0.02) and reduced stressful life events in the last 12 months (P = 0.003). At years 2 and 3, parents were studying English (96%; 76%), accessing government financial support (96%; 100%) and primary health care (98%; 87%), and feeling supported by their own (78%; 73%) or the general (69%; 63%) community. Fifteen percent of children had a chronic disease, and 13% were obese and overweight. In pre-school children, 27% had mild developmental problems in year 2; all were normal by year 3. Abnormal SDQ total difficulties scores reduced over time from 13 to 6% of children but this did not reach significance. CONCLUSION: Most refugee children have developmental and well-being outcomes within the normal range by year 3. However, a minority of children have persistently poor social-emotional outcomes.