Abstract: Social Support Scale Development for Women in Resettlement: Methodological and Political Considerations (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Social Support Scale Development for Women in Resettlement: Methodological and Political Considerations

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Karin Wachter, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Roseanne Schuster, PhD, Assistant Research Scientist, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Godfred O. Boateng, PhD, Assistant Professor, The University of Texas at Arlington, MA
Mary Bunn, PhD, Research Scientist, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose

The destruction of family and community networks in forced migration leads to the systematic loss of social support over time, with particular implications for refugee women in resettlement. Although ample evidence demonstrates positive associations between social support and well-being, the neoliberal tenants of U.S. policy focused on self-sufficiency overshadow important relational consequences of resettlement in practice. In an effort to address social-relational facets of women’s experiences in research and practice, researchers designed an iterative Delphi study to develop a social support scale, which captures culturally relevant and contextually specific domains of social support. Drawing from findings in the first phase of the study, this paper considers methodological and political tensions in light of the current administration’s strategy to dismantle the refugee resettlement program and the COVID-19 global pandemic.


The study design involves assessing the empirical literature, drawing from past qualitative research, consulting qualitatively and quantitatively with practitioners and researchers, and most importantly, engaging qualitatively with women who originated from the Democratic Republic of Congo and resettled to the U.S. through the Refugee Admissions Program. In the first phase of the project, we scoped the empirical literature to examine both conceptualizations and measures of social support in research with refugees in resettlement contexts.


Findings from the scoping analyses confirmed that social support scales used in research with refugees were not developed or validated with forced migrant women in resettlement. Thus, current measures likely overlook important cultural, contextual, and situational elements related to women’s losses of and needs for social support. The analyses also highlighted considerable variation in conceptualizations and a wide range of possible domains and sources of support across studies. Individually, however, studies only addressed on average two facets of social support, pointing to systemic oversimplifications of a complex construct and lived experience.

Conclusions and Implications

The impetus for the project stems from gaps identified in research and practice that overlook the social-relational consequences of forced migration and resettlement on women. Aims of the project include advancing critical discussions of social support in forced migration, troubling existing neoliberal paradigms driving resettlement policies and practice, and equipping practitioners and researchers with knowledge and tools to address, with complexity, less visible aspects of women’s experiences. However, these aims are in tension with the measurement of complex constructs, as well as the dramatic constriction of the U.S. refugee resettlement program due to increasingly anti-immigrant policies enacted by the current administration and the circumstances surrounding the global pandemic. These tensions, both methodological and political, highlight the need to ground research conducted with and on behalf of marginalized groups in lived experiences - from design to dissemination and application in practice. Additionally, the current crisis raises questions as to when and how to engage women, safely and ethically, from local refugee communities in light of the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on health, livelihoods, and stability of marginalized groups. Finally, the project points to the imperative to bolster the role of social work research with forced migrant populations moving forward.