Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Resettled Refugee Families and Their Children's Futures: Coherence, Hope and Support[diamonds]

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Resettled Refugee Families and Their Children's Futures: Coherence, Hope and Support[diamonds]

Article excerpt


When a refugee family is resettled from a situation of persecution, war, and insecurity to a peaceful and wealthy country their expectations of a better Ufe for themselves and their children are naturally high. Parents1 who have struggled to bring their children to a place of safety and opportunity have little doubt that future generations will have happier, easier, and more fulfiUing Uves. Whilst these hopes are well founded on many levels, the process of settlement for refugee families often proves to be harder than anticipated. Parents quickly realize that the opportunities available to them and their children are embedded within a broader social and cultural environment very different from that of their home country. Parents' understanding of this environment, their ability to envisage their own and their children's futures within it, and their capacity to map out realistic routes towards their goals are key to the achievement of family happiness and success in both the medium and long term.

Refugee parents face difficult choices regarding the kind of adults they want their children to become in resettlement countries (Shimoni, Este, and Clark, 2003). Their understanding of what defines a 'successful adult' may lack relevance in the new social environment and yet they may be unfamiUar with what such a category entails in their new country. Similarly, they may recognize that their model of adulthood does not fit within the social structures of their new country, but feel uncomfortable with the alternatives on offer (Shimoni, Este, and Clark, 2003). Much of the literature on die successful transition of adolescents into adulthood highlights the importance of clear parental expectations and consistency in setting and supporting goals (Blum and Rinehart, 1997; Department of Family and Community Services, 1999). In relation to migrant and refugee famiUes, it is frequently noted that the discrepancy between different generations' famiUarity with their new environment and differences in their expectations of how young people should negotiate this terrain can cause significant famiUal conflict and possible famUy breakdown (Bevan, 2000; Guarnaccia and Lopez, 1998; Markowitz, 1994).

This paper, based on the findings of a study conducted with 10 refugee famiUes in Melbourne, AustraUa, explores the factors which impact upon parents' abiüty to envisage their chUdren's futures and support them in setting and achieving their ambitions. It draws on Antonovsky's theory of 'sense of coherence' (SOC) to illuminate the conditions which might assist refugee parents to envisage and enable their children's futures and overcome some of the conflict which can arise when parents and children do not share a common understanding of their social environment or a vision of the potential pathways to the future.


Around 1 3,000 refugees and humanitarian entrants are resettled in Australia each year from a range of countries in Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia and the former Yugoslavia (DLMIA, 2006). They are either recommended for resettlement by the UNHCR or sponsored by friends and relatives already in Australia. The majority settle in the metropolitan centres of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane with smaller numbers in Adelaide, Perth and regional towns.

Resettlement poses a number of chaUenges for refugee families including, but not limited to, learning a new language, negotiating new systems and structures, reestablishing liveUhoods, rebuilding social networks and accessing services to mention a few. Refugee famities arrive with great hopes for the future, but must also manage the tragedies of the past. It is within this setting that refugee families must envisage and communicate a coherent sense of future to their children.

Learning a New Language

One of the fundamental elements of the settlement process for refugee adults and children is to learn a new language. Mastery of the language of the host country is not purely instrumental-being able to communicate and to access information - but is also fundamentaUy about power and an individual's position within the broader social structures of society. …

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