New funding supports three-year Canadian study on refugee youth

WINNIPEG, MB – The plight of families desperate to leave Syria and find a safe haven is dominating world news. But what happens to the children and teenagers who have experienced war and upheaval and finally land in a Canadian school?  Almost a quarter of a million newcomers settle in Canada each year – and 6,000 are refugees under the age of 18. How do they adapt and how can they thrive? The University of Winnipeg’s Dr. Jan Stewart is leading a Canadian study aimed at helping youth refugees navigate school and transition into meaningful careers.

Now in its second year, the study has received new financial support of $154,000 from Mitacs Canada, in addition to original funders Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC – $126,000) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC – $196,475). The Werklund School of Education has also granted $40,000 and ten major partners are contributing in-kind consultation time towards this project. To date, this project exceeds $600,000 in funding and support from stakeholders sharing the common goal of supporting newcomers.

Stewart is  a Professor in UWinnipeg’s Faculty of Education. Over 150 interviews have been conducted in Winnipeg inner city schools, settlement agencies and community organizations. What the researchers are finding is that overall, Winnipeg is considered a welcoming community for newcomers and refugees, but numerous challenges remain with the long-term adjustment and settlement needs of youth.

“What we are seeing is youth who are struggling to acquire that “Canadian work experience” as a result of disrupted or limited schooling, employers’ perceptions about hiring newcomers, language barriers, and poor housing,” said Dr. Stewart.  “As one settlement worker who was interviewed stated: “We need to start with the media to give the public more education about refugee issues. The people from Syria are thankful to be in Canada and they are the ones starting businesses and raising their families and contributing to their communities. Too often they are viewed as a burden to society, but this is not the case. We also need to help Canadians integrate and associate more with newcomers, it is not just a one-way process.”

Stewart is partnering with places like the N.E.E.D.S Centre, which is helping refugee youth from Syria, Somalia, Bhutan, Congo and Eritrea transition to life in Winnipeg.

Stewart is partnering with places like the N.E.E.D.S Centre, which is helping refugee youth from Syria, Somalia, Bhutan, Congo and Eritrea transition to life in Winnipeg.

The next phase of the research will involve in-depth observations of programs that are working throughout the province. The goal is to identify “best practices” and develop teacher and student resources to support career development, allowing for a more successful integration of newcomer and refugee youth.

“Dr. Stewart’s work embodies a strong applied aspect along with a diverse and highly collaborative team,” said  Dr. Jino Distasio, Associate Vice-President, Research and Innovation. “The outcome of this research will undoubtedly support on our understanding of settlement patterns while examining the resources necessary to ensure long-term success as New Canadians transition.”

Researchers are conducting extensive interviews in the community with organizations that assist refugees, examining current career development and counselling programs, and are holding focus groups.

The University of Winnipeg will host a national consultation with policy makers in 2017 to share a summary of the results.

Dr. Jan Stewart has conducted numerous seminars at national and international conferences on the needs and educational challenges of children who have been affected by conflict, violence, abuse, mental health issues, neglect, and human rights violations. She is the author of The Anger Workout Book for Teens, The STARS Program; The Tough Stuff Series; and a book titled Supporting Refugee Children: Strategies for Educators (University of Toronto Press).

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Diane Poulin, Senior Communications Specialist, The University of Winnipeg

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