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Rutgers SSW Affiliates Develop Recommendations for Refugee Wellbeing and Mental Health
July 9, 2021

Rutgers School of Social Work Assistant Professor of Teaching & Coordinator for the VAWC CertificateRefugee WellbeingProgram Rupa M. Khetarpal (MA, MSW, LCSW), alum Jordan Steiner (Ph.D.,MA, MSW, LSW), and alum Dominique B. Trott (MSW, LSW - pending) co-authored a whitepaper with Courtney Madsen (MA) of Church World Services to address refugee mental health and well-being. We recently had the opportunity to speak with the authors about the process of writing the paper and their goals for their findings. You can also read the full paper on the Church World Services website

Why did you choose to create this paper, and what did your process look like? 
This paper was inspired by discussions among refugee service providers, social service providers, mental health clinicians, practitioners, academic researchers, and refugees that occurred at meetings convened by the International Rescue Committee’s New Jersey Office for Refugees. Participants wanted to promote refugee wellness in New Jersey through identification of refugees' barriers to services, to promote education to the community and assist providers to fill in service gaps. A prominent concern was the lack of culturally appropriate and trauma-informed mental health services for refugees. This paper focuses on trauma-informed evidence-based interventions that could be developed and offered through refugee and other service providers to positively promote mental health and well-being in refugees.

What were your goals for creating the paper?
To provide recommendations to refugee resettlement and social service providers and include specific interventions addressing the cultural identity, and pre-migration, migration, and post-migration experiences of refugees served in New Jersey. The recommendations are meant to offer refugee-centered, community-based interventions that could be offered to refugees and refugee services in the New Jersey context to increase mental health and well-being in a culturally competent manner. It was developed to address the changing and growing needs of refugees in New Jersey and the existent lack of culturally appropriate mental health services to address refugees well being. The hope is that organizations serving refugees in NJ can implement, monitor, and evaluate the offered practices with the goal of creating sustainable mental health interventions that ensure overall wellness in our refugee communities. 

What were your major findings?
We found both evidence-based interventions that have proven effective through research and often outcome evaluations, such as forest bathing, nature therapy, yoga, drumming and dance movement, as well as promising practices, or practices tried by service providers that have not been scientifically evaluated, specifically for the refugee and displaced person community, such as community gardening, sports, art therapy and meditative art therapy, which can all be effective and useful for these communities. The strategies addressed and offered aim to foster wellbeing through personal actions and through building a sense of community and connection, whether through engaging in these practices individually or a group, either in person or through synchronous video conferencing with the refugee communities. These activities are cost effective and culturally familiar interventions that refugee communities' identities align with as compared to Western-based traditional mental health interventions that are not equipped to address the culturally complex needs of refugee communities. Considerations around COVID were addressed, emphasizing the need to prioritize the wellbeing of refugees and take into account the impact of the pandemic on refugees' lives. 

Why does sharing this information matter? 
We believe it is vital to share this information in order to raise awareness about the New Jersey refugee community and opportunities for service providers to respond to their mental health needs in a cost-effective, culturally sensitive manner, that looks outside of the box of Western practices only. 

What are your next steps?  
The paper’s authors plan to continue to share this information throughout New Jersey and beyond, with a focus on reaching refugee and other community service providers who may have refugees among their clients. This information is being shared through the Rutgers Continuing Education Department with hopes that additional webinars and workshops will be offered to individual agencies and services providers serving refugee communities. We are also preparing to publish this information through peer reviewed journal articles. 

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