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Resilience survey developed to help Syrian refugee children

Last Updated Jun 17, 2017 at 7:00 am PDT

HARTFORD, Conn. – University researchers have unveiled a new survey aimed at helping humanitarian groups better serve scores of children who have been displaced by the civil war in Syria.

The questionnaire was designed to measure and track the resiliency, or strengths, of Arabic-speaking children as part of a larger survey that assesses weaknesses, including mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Researchers say resiliency is needed to cope with displacement and resettlement, and the idea behind the survey is to gauge how much resiliency young refugees have and to bolster those strengths.

Displaced Syrian children, for example, drew strength from positive relationships in their community, feeling resettled, being able to maintain ambition and believing that education is still important, the survey study found.

“Humanitarian organizations strive to alleviate suffering and also nurture the resilience of refugees — their ability to overcome adversity,” said Catherine Panter-Brick, a Yale University anthropology and global affairs professor and lead author of the study.

“If you only focus on the negative — people’s trauma — then you’re missing the full picture,” she said. “We have developed a tool for accurately measuring resilience in Arabic-speaking young people. This survey will help researchers and service providers to craft effective interventions that bolster people’s strengths.”

Researchers said they developed the questionnaire because most other measures of resilience were designed for adults.

More than 5 million people have been forced to leave Syria during the six-year civil war. More than 650,000 Syrians have gone to Jordan, and half of them are under 18 years old.

Researchers tested their new survey by interviewing about 600 boys and girls, ages 11 to 18, living in Jordan near the Syrian border. The children included both refugees and non-refugee natives, so that the resiliency of host communities also could be measured.

Children are asked to rate 12 statements including “Education is important to me,” ”I have opportunities to develop and improve myself for the future” and “My family stands by me in difficult times.” Their answers are on a five-point scale from “not at all” to “a lot.” The questions are meant to be asked at different points in time, to measure children’s progress.

The study was conducted in conjunction with the Portland, Oregon-based aid group Mercy Corps, which has 150 staff in Jordan working to help both Syrian refugees and Jordanian families affected by the refugee influx.

The genesis for the new survey were the needs of Syrian adolescents being overlooked by aid groups responding to the refugee crisis, said Matt Streng, director of youth, gender and girls for Mercy Corps.

Streng said the questionnaire already is in use and accurately measures what adversities adolescents face and what assets they have to overcome those adversities. The survey also helps in creating programming that can help develop those assets, he said.

The study results were published Thursday in the journal Child Development. Other co-authors are from Queen Margaret University in Scotland, Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, and the Hashemite University in Jordan.