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Preventive school-based interventions to promote the mental well-being of refugee and migrant adolescents

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - RefugeesWellSchool (Preventive school-based interventions to promote the mental well-being of refugee and migrant adolescents)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2022-04-01 do 2022-09-30

Worldwide, about 90 million people are currently forcibly displaced, half of them children and adolescents. European societies face the challenge of promoting these young people’s adaptation and integration processes. Supporting refugee and migrant adolescents’ mental well-being is herein pivotal, as their past experiences may disrupt their psychosocial functioning. Yet, also in the host country, recently arrived adolescents face several stressors of acculturation, residence insecurity, social isolation and discrimination, all impacting their mental health. This accumulation of difficult life experiences places refugee and migrant youngsters at increased risk for mental health difficulties and less academic achievements. On the other hand, factors of social support, family cohesion and positive school experiences may promote their well-being.

Recent studies have emphasized the preventive role of schools in promoting young refugees' mental well-being. However, there is still little evidence showing what works in school-settings. The overall objective of RefugeesWellSchool is therefore to further the evidence-base on the role of preventive, school-based interventions in promoting refugee and migrant adolescents’ mental well-being, and on how they can be implemented in educational settings. We herein put a specific emphasis on interventions furthering social support networks and social cohesion.

Although the project has been strongly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and related closure of the schools during the implementation of our interventions, we found that both young refugees and migrants as participating teachers strongly valued the interventions. Although little quantitative evidence was found for the interventions’ impact, possibly explained by the disruption of the interventions due to COVID, some evidence for particular aspects could be found, also in the qualitative data, pointing to the importance of the social support elements of the interventions. Both students and teachers for example indicated that the interventions helped in getting to know each other better, in listening to each other, sharing experiences, building connections and experiencing a sense of belonging. At the same time, sharing personal stories is not easy in a group, and sometimes counteracted coping strategies of active avoidance of painful stories. In this regard, the interventions’ mechanisms of providing safety and socially engaging, creative activities may have played a role to experience the interventions as positive.
In all interventions, larger structural and organizational issues played a role in how the interventions were carried out, and how they could become sustainable. Rigid curricula, teachers’ high workload, lack of adequate resources, and the structurally separated nature of newcomer education in some countries were among some of these barriers. These constraining realities in society are important to be detected and understood in order to optimize intervention environment.
The RefugeesWellSchool project started off with the successful adaptation and development of five interventions which we implemented in school settings for refugee and migrant adolescents: Classroom Drama Therapy Program; Welcome to School; Enhancing Peer Interactions and Social Capital - PIER; In-Service Teacher Training - INSETT; and INSETT + Teaching Recovery Techniques.
RWS collected quantitative and qualitative data from adolescents, teachers and parents. In the participating countries (i.e. Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and UK), 85 schools (304 classes) with large numbers of refugee and migrant adolescents participated in the fully randomised-control study. 2,165 young people, with and without migration background, participated in the study and its interventions; another 1,384 adolescents participated in the study's control group.
Quantitative assessment pre- and post-intervention was carried out through the administration of standardized, translated questionnaires; qualitative data consisted of focus groups and interviews with adolescents (n=247) and teachers (n=143) from the intervention group.

Yet, shortly after the start of the implementation, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, evoking the closure of most schools where our implementation was ongoing. Interventions had to be adapted as also the follow-up measurement. Despite the strong impact of the pandemic, still interesting findings emerged, about the meaning of interventions in schools for young refugees’ and migrants’ wellbeing, but also on how schools, teachers and pupils deal with such an impacting event as the pandemic.

The project findings have been published in scientific articles, and widely disseminated via local publications, local and European workshops, trainings, (social) media, conferences,... The Ukrainian refugee crisis has created a particular interest of practitioners and policy-makers in our interventions.
Strong efforts were put to make the interventions as accessible as possible for school staff and policy makers: the intervention manuals and implementation protocols are freely available, all interventions are explained in a short video, and we developed a tool to help stakeholders determining which intervention meets their needs and possibilities (www.refugeeswellschool.eu).
The RefugeesWellSchool project managed to implement school-based interventions to increase refugee and migrant adolescents’ wellbeing, despite the disruption by the COVID-19-pandemic. The analysis of this implementation showed that the interventions have the possibility to create important positive impact onto participating adolescents’ wellbeing and the social support they experience in- and outside the class group. Also teachers evaluated the interventions, especially the training for teachers, positively. The project has as such not only created a stronger evidence base for preventive, school-based interventions for young refugees and migrants, but also generated important knowledge on the specific conditions that need to be fulfilled for a successful implementation of the interventions, as also the possible challenges and barriers herein.

Secondly, the manuals of the five interventions are freely accessible and have been widely distributed. Moreover, a tool to help school staff, other practitioners and policy makers to choosing the ‘right’ tool has been created.

Third, culturally and contextually adapted assessment instruments have been realised, used and made accessible, upon request.

Last, strong efforts have been put onto a wide local, national and European dissemination of the interventions and the findings of RefugeesWellSchool. Throughout the project and in particular in response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis, stakeholders from all across Europe have shown an increasing interest in the project results. As such, the project has not only created a strong impact onto the participating adolescents, teachers and schoosl, but also supports policy makers and practitioners across Europe in their supportive interventions for young refugees and migrants residing in their countries. This may lead to better academic achievements and employability of these young newcomers, an increased realization of preventive psychosocial interventions, and an overall increased awareness and knowledge of mental health problems and dynamics of discrimination in school contexts in diverse stakeholders groups.
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