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

Karen Zwi, Santuri Rungan, Susan Woolfenden, Lisa Woodland, Pamela Palasanthiran, Katrina Williams

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13 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-849
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Paediatrics and Child Health
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • development
  • longitudinal cohort
  • refugee child
  • social-emotional well-being

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