Profound consequences of forced migration include the loss of social support. However, research, policy, and practice tend to overlook these aspects of people’s experiences in the aftermath of war, displacement, and resettlement to a third country. Conducted in 2018, this scoping review examined the landscape of interventions that promote social support among refugees in resettlement contexts. Social support interventions referred to services, programs, or initiatives that strengthened social connections and/or increased support available through interpersonal networks.
The following questions guided the search process and analysis: What is the state of social support interventions with refugees in resettlement? Where, how, and with whom were interventions designed and implemented? What was innovative? What learning do these examples of practice offer? A review of the relevant literature from nine databases and application of inclusion criteria found 20 admissible articles, which included a concrete description of social support programming and related research with refugees in a resettlement context. The articles were examined using an inductive content analytical approach.
Findings revealed the extent to which social support intervention research is a relatively nascent area of practice and research. Articles reflected considerable variation in the focus and modalities of interventions. More than half of the studies employed strictly qualitative approaches to assess participant experiences, and the process identified only three articles that reported findings from quasi-experimental research studies. The analysis revealed creative innovations in intervention design and research, including robust strategies for community participation, maintaining transnational connections using technology, and peer-led and family-focused interventions. The findings emphasize the importance of intentionality in helping people rebuild supportive interpersonal networks in new contexts. Interventions that explicitly created opportunities for participants to explore and build social connections also evaluated for changes in social support. Programs that acknowledged the importance of social support to health and well-being but did not explicitly incorporate strategies or evaluate these outcomes may have overlooked opportunities to promote meaningful connections.
Conclusions and Implications
Programmatic efforts to build social support contributes to a sense of belonging and connectedness within and across communities. The examples of programmatic interventions highlighted in this review thus relate to broader efforts to promote cohesive, interconnected, and diverse societies. These efforts underscore the need to bring social support to the forefront of practice and research concerned with the health and well-being of people who have experienced profound violence and trauma and resettle as refugees. Considering these examples of practice from a social-relational perspective serves as a springboard for envisioning a new generation of programs and scholarship that acknowledge and substantively address needs for social connections among refugees in resettlement. By incorporating these perspectives and strategies, social work can play a leading role in designing and evaluating innovative programs with refugees in the U.S. resettlement context and beyond.