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Source Reviewed:

Hamilton, M. and Moore, D. (2004) Educational Interventions for Refugee Children


Teachers, school administrators, special needs teachers, policy makers, volunteers, and parents


Diversity Issues


This book is a recent publication dealing with the theoretical foundations of the social and cognitive development of refugee children. Another dimension of this book is the documentation and assessment of educational interventions designed to meet the needs of refugee children, with a particular focus on schools in both New Zealand and Australia. The particular circumstances that instigated the research for this book was the influx of Kosovo refugees migrating to New Zealand beginning in the late1990’s.

As a future teacher who has aspirations of working with newcomer students in Canada, I found this book to be very illuminating. It includes the perspectives of various writers who come from many different disciplines such as social work, psychology and education. In my research, I have found a wealth of information about ESL issues and strategies for addressing the needs of immigrant students, however, in my experience there seems to lack information about the experiences of refugee children. This is an area of study that has not been widely explored. While a great of research has focused on the social, emotional, medical and even physical welfare of refugee children, there has been less research dealing with the social and cognitive development of refugee children.

There is a common perception that immigrant and refugee children share similar experiences and are in need of the same kind of support, however, this is often an incorrect assumption. Many refugee children face a unique set of circumstances and challenges which stem from life in their country of origin and factors leading to the migration and displacement of their families. These factors may have significant impacts on both the social and cognitive development of a refugee child.

Hamilton and Moore shed light on the theoretical foundations of the social and cognitive development of refugee students and describe best practices which help to address language and other academic issues confronting refugee students. In chapter one of the book, we are introduced to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model which is influential throughout the entirety of the book. This theory proposes that human development is the interactive life-long process of adaptation by an individual to the changing environment. Throughout this book, Bronfenbrenner’s theory provides a conceptual framework for considering the needs of refugee children as it allows one to consider the impact of both personal and environmental factors on the development of refugee children.

Chapter two, written by K. Frater-Mathieson, is entitled ‘Refugee trauma, loss and grief: Implications for intervention.’ It focuses on factors which directly influence the life and development of the refugee child, and considers what this means when placed in the context of educational settings. The author outlines some of the factors impacting refugee children at three different phases, the pre-migration, trans-migration, and post-migration phase. At each of the three phases there can be significant tensions that arise due to atypical conditions which impact on the child. An ‘atypical condition’ is anything that either does not support or which interferes with the normal development of the child. The obligation for schools receiving refugee students is to adapt and develop policies, procedures, and practices that can support these students so that they can surpass their challenges and thrive in the school environment despite the trauma and loss that they may have experienced.

Chapter three, written by Shawn Loewen, is entitled ‘Second language concerns for refugee children’ and deals with what is unique about refugee children, in comparison with other groups in their task of second language acquisition. The chapter examines refugee children and second language learning in relation to pre-, trans- and post-migration factors, with particular emphasis on factors influencing the task of second language learning and effective practice in the classroom.

One measure of a refugees’ overall success in adapting to their new environment is the extent to which they are successful in learning the language of their host country. In this regard, refugees are similar to immigrants; however, the lack of choice surrounding a refugee’s departure from their homeland and their arrival in a new country distinguishes them from other immigrant groups. Unlike immigrants, refugees have been forced to flee their homelands and have experienced varying degrees of emotional and physical trauma. As such, refugees are more at risk for mental health and academic dysfunction, and they often do not arrive in optimal psychological or emotional condition for language learning.

Furthermore, it is widely believed that learners of a second language will acquire the host country’s language to the degree that they are able to acculturate to the mainstream culture. This process of acculturation is often a much more complex process for refugees than it is for other immigrants, and it may take a longer period of time for adaptation to occur.
These factors are only but a few that teachers must bear in mind when working with refugee students. In terms of supporting language learning among refugee students, much of the same practices that seem to work effectively when teaching immigrant students can be employed with refugee students, and these include peer tutoring, cultural and first language support, creating inclusive classrooms, and withdrawal ESL classes to provide individualized and/or small group instruction.

Chapter four, written by Angelika Anderson is entitled, ‘Resilience’, and deals with identifying those factors that help refugee children overcome adversity to achieve positive developmental outcomes and an examination of factors that put refugees at risk and hinder their development. It is believed that institutions such as schools have a role to play in promoting resilience among refugee children. One way to describe resilience is to view it as the acquisition of tools needed for healthy adaptation, and this may be shaped by interactions between a child and their environment. Deliberately promoting the development of resilience is a desirable goal for interventions with people who have experienced adversity, such as refugees.

In the case of schools, potential school-based interventions can make a positive difference in the lives of refugee children. Some interventions that have been known to work effectively are linking the refugee student with a mentor, ensuring a nurturing, accepting, and caring school environment, developing programs to promote personal resources such as self-esteem, self-control, and strong social skills, providing counselors and making local information available to alleviate some of the stress associated with relocation.

In chapter five, also written by Anderson is entitled ‘Issues of migration’ and it deals with the pre and post-migration situations impacting on refugee children and specifically how they affect a refugee’s ability to successfully accomplish the tasks faced in adapting to a different place and a different culture.

Chapter six, written by Hamilton and entitled ‘Schools, teachers and education of refugee children’, summarizes the general literature on how schools and teachers impact on refugee students and discusses how schools and teachers need to adapt in order to facilitate and support the education of refugee children.

D. Moore wrote chapter seven entitled ‘Conceptual and policy issues.’ The chapter looks at the broader context of refugee education and focuses on the interactions between schools and other organizations, institutions and structures. It deals with policy issues surrounding education and other organizational and societal structures that impact on the well-being of refugee students and all students in a multicultural society. While this chapter seems to focus on New Zealand, many interesting points are made that can just as easily be applied to the Canadian context. The author argues that the task of educators is not to treat refugee students as a group of individuals with a set of deficiencies to be ‘fixed’ and treated psychologically, but to change the culture of teaching and learning within schools to move towards an improved educational system that is capable of meeting the needs of all students, including those with special needs.

The final chapter written by Hamilton and Moore focuses on a description and summary of the diagnostic indicators for evaluating support services for refugee children, future directions in research, and practical implications for creating supportive educational environments for refugee children. The chapter also summarizes best practices for facilitating the refugee child’s development and learning within the school context.


An excellent summary of best practices in the field with respect to working with refugee students.


The book focuses on the policies and programs developed in New Zealand and Australia. Although, I think we may have a lot in common with these countries, it is always great to gain insight into what is happening in Canada.


I think this is an excellent resource because it helps us better understand the distinctions between the experiences of refugee children versus immigrant children. We all too often dismiss or overlook the special needs that refugee students may have stemming from unique circumstances surrounding their displacement and migration to the host country. This book brings those needs to our attention.

Your Recommendations:


Submitted by: Erika Carlson

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