Abstract: Educational Inclusion for Special Needs Students in a Refugee Camp: How Is School Setting Related to Children's Wellbeing? (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Educational Inclusion for Special Needs Students in a Refugee Camp: How Is School Setting Related to Children's Wellbeing?

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR C, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Thomas M. Crea, PhD, Associate Professor; Chair of Global Practice; Assistant Dean of Global Programs, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Kerri Evans, MSW LCSW, Doctoral Candidate, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Robert Hasson, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Kelsey Werner, MSW, Director, Social & Community Based Systems Modeling, Boston College, MA
Elizabeth Wanjiku, Special Needs Coordinator, Jesuit Refugee Service, Kakuma, Kenya
Gregory St. Arnold, Education in Emergencies Specialist, Jesuit Refugee Service, Rome, Italy
Background and Purpose:

Education is a basic human right for all children. However, children who are refugees face unique challenges to accessing education, and children with special needs are at high risk of being marginalized. Best practices suggest that educational inclusion through mainstreaming is the optimal strategy for serving special needs students. In refugee camps, however, significant barriers exist in receiving quality education, including overwhelmingly high numbers of students in classrooms, and lack of qualified teachers and teacher training. Yet, the literature is largely silent on whether mainstreaming is effective for children in refugee camps. The purpose of this study is to examine the extent to which educational inclusion in a refugee camp helps promote children’s wellbeing, taking into account children’s presenting problems.


In early 2019, researchers collected surveys from parents of students with special needs (n=107) currently placed in four special needs centers (n=46 parents) and those who used to be placed in a special needs center and are currently placed in five mainstream schools (n=61 parents) in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya. The dependent variable is the prosocial subscale of the parent-completed Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) (0-10). Independent variables include type of setting (1=mainstream), child’s age (in years), child’s gender (1=male), length of time spent in the setting (in years), parents’ perceptions of whether their child would learn better in a mainstream classroom (1=yes), and the total problems score of the SDQ (0-40; prosocial scale not included in score). Using Stata 15, stepwise OLS regression analyses were completed to assess the predictors of prosocial behaviors for refugee children living in Kakuma refugee camp. Model 1 regressed prosocial behaviors on educational setting, number of years attending the setting, and child’s age and gender. Model 2 included the additional predictors of children’s learning and total problems.


Results from Model 1 indicated that mainstream schools (b=1.6, p<.01) predicted greater prosocial behaviors as did each additional year attending the school (b=0.3, p<.05) . Model 2 showed that the SDQ total problems score negatively predicted SDQ prosocial behavior (b=-0.13, p<.01), and parental opinion that child would learn better in a mainstream classroom positively predicted prosocial behavior (b=1.4, p<.01). However, the significant relationships of mainstream setting and length of time and prosocial behavior were no longer statistically significant. Child’s age and gender were not significant in either model.

Discussion and Implications:

This study is one of the only empirical examinations of how educational settings are related to children’s functioning in the context of a refugee camp. While mainstream schools are linked to better functioning, this relationship is erased when taking into account children’s emotional and behavioral difficulties. Given that children graduate from special needs centers to mainstream classrooms, these results suggest that special needs centers are serving children with greater difficulties. These patterns do not appear to shift with more time spent at a particular setting. More attention should be paid in refugee camps to the unique needs of children with special needs, as blanket policies of mainstreaming may not be effective.