Abstract: Forced Migration in Social Work Research: A Scoping Review (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

205P Forced Migration in Social Work Research: A Scoping Review

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Odessa Gonzalez Benson, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Jessica Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor, Indiana University, Indianapolis, IN
Karin Wachter, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ

Background and Purpose

Forced migration has come center stage in recent years, in what has been called the global “refugee crisis.”  Social work with refugees, asylum seekers and other forced migrants, as well as immigrants more broadly, is considered a relatively new and growing field of social work in practice and research. The specific contributions of the social work discipline to empirical knowledge concerned with forced migrants are unspecified and undertheorized.

An examination of contributions over time and from a global perspective would position social work within scholarly and public discourse. This is particularly important given the relative new area of practice and given the current political climate vis-à-vis migration and immigration. This study aimed to provide a robust analysis of the topical, geographic and temporal aspects to the scope of social work research focusing on forced migration to date.


Researchers conducted a comprehensive literature search of articles pertaining to refugees and forced migrants published from 1978 to 2018 in social work journals.  Forced migrants included in this study were refugees, asylum-seekers, unaccompanied minors, internally displaced people, victims of trafficking, and exiles.  A total of 394 articles published in 43 social work journals were cataloged and analyzed using Zotero and NVivo software.  Researchers generated a coding framework based on sensitizing concepts from the literature and used NVivo to code the 394 articles drawing from deductive and inductive approaches. 


Scholars across 31 different countries authored articles included in the final analysis. Research conducted with forced migrants spanned 38 different countries.  Geographically, results suggest that topical domains vary by country of author and country of forced migrants. Temporally, results show an upward trend in number of forced migration studies published in social work journals over three decades. Substantively, findings show that two topical domains dominate social work research on forced migration: health and mental health, and practice and intervention. U.S.-based research is overrepresented as compared with global topics of study. Results show increased attention to political and policy-related domains of forced migration in later years, particularly post-911.

Conclusions and Implications

This scoping review examined the contributions of social work to forced migration research.  Specifically, the review examined topical domains of study, the evolution of research priorities over time, and variation in social work research by geographic region. The results highlight gaps in knowledge in social work research with forced migrants and points to trajectories for moving forward. The analysis serves to locate social work scholarship within broader academic discussions in sociology, anthropology, demography, health and other disciplines.