A risk and resilience perspective on unaccompanied refugee minors

Soc Work. 2012 Jul;57(3):259-69. doi: 10.1093/sw/sws003.


In the United States, unaccompanied refugee minors (URMs) are a diverse and extremely vulnerable group served by social workers about whom there is little research. URMs enter the United States from many lands without parents or kin, often having experienced war and other traumatic events. Using a risk and resilience framework, we summarize the research on URMs, illustrating the challenges and issues with a case study of a resilient Lost Boy from Sudan who became a social worker. We discuss strengths, coping strategies, and resilience, exploring the ways in which many URMs are able to effectively meet the challenge of adapting to a new country and culture, thriving despite the extreme adversity they have experienced, as well as sources of resilience within URMs that have allowed them to adapt and even thrive in a vastly different cultural environment despite exposure to multiple risks. These sources of resilience include positive outlook, use of healthy coping mechanisms and religiosity, and connectedness to prosocial organizations. We conclude with recommendations for social work research to better understand the nature of risk and resilience among URMs.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Foster Home Care
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Resilience, Psychological
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Work*
  • Sudan / ethnology
  • United States
  • Vulnerable Populations / psychology*