Abstract: Using a Systemic Trauma Theory to Understand the Marginalization and Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma Among Somali Refugee Families in the U.S (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Using a Systemic Trauma Theory to Understand the Marginalization and Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma Among Somali Refugee Families in the U.S

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Laveen A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Muna Saleh, MSW, PhD Student, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Hyojin Im, PhD, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Background & Purpose:

Refugee families face multiple sources of distress during resettlement: from unprocessed past traumas causing lingering impacts on relationships and coping, to immense challenges in accessing services and resources exacerbated by cultural and language barriers, and to ongoing pressures for acculturation and integration. Although refugee communities are highly resilient and most families are successfully adjusted to and integrated into the host community, some families may remain vulnerable to social alienation and marginalization stemming from cumulative adverse experiences during migration and resettlement. However, relatively little is known about how cumulative trauma sequelae is associated with structural challenges that lead to marginalization of refugee families and how impeded coping and family functioning contribute to inter-generational transmission of trauma. Adopting Systemic Trauma theory, this study explores the nexus of marginalization and the proliferation of inter-generational transmission of trauma, focusing on both the process and the source of marginalization to understand its implications for family functioning and coping resources among Somali refugees.

Methods: Adopting a community-based participatory research approach, we developed an in-depth interview guide based on the information gained through focus group discussions with refugee-serving professionals, and refugee community leaders. This study recruited fifteen homeless Somali refugee families in a Midwest city in the U.S. Interviews were conducted in English and Somali with assistance from experienced bilingual interpreters (one male and one female) and their gender was matched with interviewee for gender-sensitive and culturally-informed research setting. Interview data transcribed in English was exported to NVivo software for analysis and a hybrid thematic analysis was utilized to incorporate inductive coding with a priori template guided by traumatogenic dynamics framework. The study participants were aged between 25 and 49 (M=37, SD=8.3), stayed in the U.S. for 9.8 months on average (SD=5.5), and their family size was about eight people per household (M=7.8, SD=1.9), five of whom were single mothers.

Findings: Data analysis revealed how family coping resources are deteriorated as consequences of pre- and post-resettlement traumas and how affected family dynamics and functioning increases a risk of inter-generational trauma in the context of forced migration and the resettlement process. In specific, several overarching themes that highlight a pathway to marginalization and trauma proliferation within family include: 1) diminished social capital; 2) spiral loss of coping resources; 3) proliferation of individual, family and collective trauma; and 4) systemic trauma stoking inter-/multi-generational transmission of trauma. Findings also highlight how social and structural adversities in the resettlement process engender, maintain and/or exacerbate negative consequences of cumulative trauma.

Conclusion & Implications:

Findings of this study shed light on the multifaceted factors that facilitate and impede family systems and trauma proliferation during resettlement. Marginalization transpires both through the experiences of intergroup and structural adversities and when cumulative traumas significantly interfere with individual and collective coping and social adjustment, while the resettlement program and the local community fail to detect and intervene. Traumagenic dynamics in marginalized refugee families reveals the propensity of the resettlement program to further proliferate trauma among refugees and contribute to the inter-generational transmission of trauma.