Research Projects

Switchboard conducts and partners on selected research on studies related to refugee resettlement and integration. This page shares details of Switchboard’s ongoing and completed research projects, including project descriptions, partners, and timeframes.

Investigator(s): Graeme Rodgers, Stacey Shaw, Karin Wachter

Partner(s): Arizona State University, Brigham Young University

Status: In Progress

Timeframe: 2023–2024

This study explores the significance of compassion as an element of staff well-being and organizational effectiveness in refugee resettlement settings. It focuses on current and former resettlement staff in direct service roles, highlighting their experiences of compassion, satisfaction, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress, specifically in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and Operation Allies Welcome. This period (early 2020–present) has been characterized by high rates of staff turnover and considerable organizational stress within U.S. resettlement agencies. Using a mixed-method design and building on convincing evidence in the health care sector, the study examines the hypothesis that compassionate service delivery is associated positively with increased staff resilience, improved organizational performance, and better outcomes for resettled refugee clients. Findings will contribute to a growing appreciation of the benefits of compassionate service delivery at a time when established models of casework services are being challenged, transformed, and re-imagined.

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Investigator(s): Theresa Betancourt

Partner(s): Boston College School of Social Work, University of Illinois Chicago, Refugee Immigrant and Assistance Center (RIAC)

Status: In Progress

Timeframe: 2022–2024

Boston College School of Social Work has partnered with the University of Illinois Chicago Department of Psychiatry, with funding from Switchboard, to assess the needs, strengths, and challenges that Afghan families face during the resettlement process, in order to equip service providers with family support strategies. There are currently more than 100,000 Afghan evacuees in the U.S., 40% of whom are minor-aged children and adolescents. This population’s exposure to the acute trauma of dislocation raises risks of poor family functioning and, in resettled children, mental health and psychosocial problems. The stressors associated with resettlement, including the inherent challenges of adjusting to life in the U.S. specifically, pose additional risk.

A multi-project approach will provide resources for culturally informed practices that service agencies can use to engage the community. The projects include: Understanding Families’ Needs and Strengths that Affect Youth Mental Health Among Afghan Families in Resettlement; Cultural Validation of a Mental Health Screening Tool for Resettled Afghan Youth; and currently untitled research to inform the delivery of mental health and family support to Unaccompanied Afghan Minors (UAMs) who are unified with sponsors in the U.S. Afghan community.

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Investigator(s): Hamutal Bernstein, Elly Miles, Rebecca H. Berger

Partner(s): Urban Institute

Status: In Progress

Timeframe: 2024

Early childhood services (including child care and early education, home visiting and family strengthening, and early intervention) represent an array of critical intervention points to ensure the strong foundation and long-term wellbeing of young newcomers. These services also facilitate parent participation in education, language, employment, and training opportunities. But low access and utilization of services, including child care, is a long-standing issue in immigrant and refugee communities. While refugees and immigrants broadly are recognized to under-utilize the early childhood services for which they are eligible, resettlement agencies are also noted to have few, if any, supports targeting young children under five years old.

The pathways to new, cross-sectoral collaborations between resettlement providers and early childhood service providers exist, but guidance on implementing them is limited. Thus, efforts to increase the utilization of early childhood services are stymied by a lack of clear, accessible information, as well as by misunderstandings of these systems on both sides. To address this gap, Urban Institute will develop a literature review informed by an environmental scan, a review of research related to early childhood services in resettled refugee populations, and key informant interviews with experts in the field.

Investigator(s): Miriam Potocky

Partner(s): N/A

Status: Completed

Timeframe: 2022-2023

The world today has the highest number of refugees in history. Resettlement is a durable solution for some. Due to the stressors and traumas of forced migration, resettled refugees experience disproportionate rates of physical and mental health difficulties. The dissemination of research on evidence-based interventions for this population has advanced greatly; however, practical knowledge about implementing these interventions is scant. This rapid scoping review was conducted to identify the characteristics of implementation research in refugee resettlement while isolating commonly reported implementation barriers. A search of four major databases yielded data on implementation characteristics, outcomes, and barriers. Frequency analyses were conducted to summarize the data. Fifty-three studies were included.

The most frequently implemented evidence-based interventions were physical health education/promotion, trauma-focused therapies, and parenting interventions. Acceptability and feasibility were the most frequently studied implementation outcomes, typically measured by client retention rates. The most common implementation strategies were adapting an intervention to the local refugee context, training stakeholders, and using iterative evaluation. Reported rates of desirable outcomes were high. Most studies used mixed methods, one-group pretest–posttest, or qualitative research designs. The most cited implementation barriers were lack of time, budget constraints, workflow disruption, and limited availability of interpreters. This study is the first to assess implementation research in refugee resettlement. This is a nascent field with potential for improving service quality and outcomes for this vulnerable population. Limitations and suggestions for application are discussed.

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Investigator(s): Miriam Potocky

Partner(s): N/A

Status: Completed

Timeframe: 2020-2021

Two concurrent 21st-century phenomena—the nearly unprecedented number of forced migrants and the near ubiquity of information and communications technology—have given rise to increased scholarship in “digital migration studies.” One area of investigation in this emergent interdisciplinary field is the role of digital skills in refugee integration. Given the accelerated global reliance on technology resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the author conducted a state-of-the-art literature review to identify emerging issues and highlight research needs in this area. A search of 10 databases yielded 39 studies spanning the major resettlement regions (North America, Western Europe, Oceania) and including refugees from across the globe. The inclusion criteria were studies focused on refugees’ practical use of digital technology in integration, published from January 2020–April 2021. Exclusion criteria were studies on refugees in transit or protracted displacement; on digital connectivity and accessibility; on the use of digital technology by humanitarian actors; on software development; on analyses of digital representations of refugees; on public attitudes toward refugees as expressed in digital media; and on literature reviews. Ndofor-Tah et al.’s (2019) Refugee Integration Framework was used to organize and synthesize the findings.

The studies demonstrated how digital skills affect all domains of integration. Additionally, the studies confirm that many refugees in resettlement have limited digital skills for necessary integration tasks, such as navigating websites and assessing the credibility of online information. Limitations of this state-of-the-art review include its cross-sectional nature, having only one reviewer, and having only retrieved literature accessible online through public websites or subscription databases. An important emerging issue for future research is assessing, teaching, and learning digital skills among this population. The study’s contributions to the knowledge base and theory, and its implications for information science scholars and practitioners and those in allied disciplines within digital migration studies, are discussed.

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Investigator(s): Ling San Lau, Graeme Rodgers

Partner(s): Columbia University

Status: Completed

Timeframe: 2019-2020

Refugees and asylum seekers have unique and complex needs related to their experiences of forced displacement and resettlement. Cultural competence is widely recognized as important for the provision of effective and equitable services for refugee populations. However, the delivery of culturally appropriate services—including health care and social services—is often complicated by unclear definitions and ineffective operationalization of cultural competence. Further, the unique needs and priorities of people from refugee backgrounds are under-addressed in the existing cultural competence literature. This scoping review seeks to synthesize the peer-reviewed literature examining cultural competence in refugee service settings. A systematic search of four databases (EBSCO, Proquest, Scopus, and Google Scholar) identified 26 relevant peer-reviewed studies for analysis.

A range of approaches to cultural competence were identified at the level of individual providers and organizations. We identified a need for greater refugee participation and perspective in the practice of cultural competence, increased conceptual clarity, and greater recognition of structural barriers. We call for further rigorous research that critically examines the concept of cultural competence and its meaning and relevance to refugee populations.

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