New directions in refugee youth mental health services: Overcoming barriers to engagement

B. Heidi Ellis, Alisa B. Miller, Heather Baldwin, Saida Abdi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


Mental health outcomes in refugee youth are diverse, ranging from prolonged difficulties to resiliency. Refugee communities rarely access services, even for those youth who are in need. Barriers include (a) distrust of authority and/or systems, (b) stigma of mental health services, (c) linguistic and cultural barriers, and (d) primacy and prioritization of resettlement stressors. Mental health promotion among refugee youth requires an integrated response to these barriers. This article includes a description of how the previously mentioned barriers may prevent refugee youth from receiving mental health services; approaches to addressing them; and a detailed description of Supporting the Health of Immigrant Families and Adolescents (Project SHIFA), a program developed in collaboration with the Somali community in Boston, Massachusetts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-85
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Child and Adolescent Trauma
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge the partners of Project SHIFA: Boston Public Schools and the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School, The Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center, Boston University School of Social Work, the Alliance for Inclusion and Prevention, the Home for Little Wanderers, the Somali Development Center, and Children’s Hospital Boston. Funding for this project was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the Caring Across Communities Initiative.


  • Refugee
  • Service access
  • Trauma
  • Treatment engagement


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