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The Influence of Previous Traumatic Experiences on
Haitian Child Refugees' Conceptualization of Fear

By: Jessy Guler, Courtney Guler, and Dr. Judit Szente | Mentor: Dr. Judit Szente

Method

Participants

The sample recruited and surveyed in this study consisted of eighteen refugee children residing in the Central Florida area. Two of the participants were Sudanese, eight were Cuban, one was Venezuelan, three were Vietnamese, and five were Haitian. The participants were recruited voluntarily through contacts with social workers from Catholic Charities of Central Florida, a local refugee resettlement service program. Each family was given a gift card as compensation for participating in the study. As mentioned previously, this study focused on the Haitian children in the study's sample to provide a more in-depth analysis of the unique aspects of the Haitian refugee experience. After IRB permission was obtained for the study, the informed consent and child assent procedures were completed through the collaboration with the refugee resettlement program.

The five Haitian children ranged in age from 8 to 13 (M = 11.2 years of age). Three male and two female Haitian children participated in the study. The five Haitian children were born in Haiti. The children's length of asylum within the United States ranged from 1 to 6 years (M = 4.2 years). All children had some English-language speaking ability, and they all had prior formal educational experience in Haiti. The children came from diverse familial backgrounds, in which they lived with a combination of immediate and extended family ranging from 4 to 7 family members living in a single household (M = 5 people). Each of the Haitian children surveyed in this study had mothers residing in his or her household, all of whom had previous formal education up to the eighth grade level. Three of the Haitian children had fathers residing in their household, all of whom had previous formal education up to the high school level. The household annual incomes of the Haitian families fell either into the $10,000-19,999 or the $40,000-49,000 categories annually.

Research assistants under the supervision of a faculty mentor interviewed the children. A refugee caseworker was also present who served as a translator as needed. The researchers read a questionnaire verbatim to each child in English. All interviews lasted between one and one and half hours. One adult representative from each family was also interviewed for this study by the caseworker.

Instruments

Parent Demographic Questionnaire

The demographic questionnaire included fifteen questions addressing the history of the child and his or her family. The adult representative of the family completed the demographic questionnaire. The demographic questionnaire included questions about the gender of the parent representative, the gender of the child, the age of the child, the child's grade in school, the child's ethnicity, the child's country of origin, the child's level of English, the prior educational experiences of the child, the total family annual income, the mother's highest level of education, the father's highest level of education, the length of time in the United States, the number of children residing in the household, and the number of people residing in the household. If at any point in the interview process the parent appeared to be uncomfortable with a question, s/he was allowed to stop.

Parent Interview

The parent interview was structured with a set protocol that was read verbatim by the case worker. Parent representatives answered questions about what primary fear object they thought their children were afraid of, why they thought their children were afraid of that primary fear object, and how often their children appeared to be afraid. The parent representatives were then asked to describe what actions their children performed during and after a fearful situation that indicated that they were afraid. Then, the parents were asked to report how their children calmed down when they experienced fear. In final portion of the adult interview, the adult representatives were asked to describe any previous traumatic experiences that their children experienced in their native country that may have contributed to their present day fears. The parents' views of their children's previous traumatic experiences ranged in severity and were placed upon a four level scale (no answer, non-life threatening, moderately-life threatening, and life threatening). Independent researchers developed the thematic coding system and conducted a reliability check of this scale, which resulted in 100% agreement.

Draw-And-Tell Identification of Primary Fear Object–Child Interview

One component of the study's questionnaire involved the child identifying his or her primary fear object. The child was provided with markers and paper to complete the questionnaire, and was given stickers as a reward upon completing the interview. The researchers used a pencil, a list of questions, and a tape recorder to assist them during the interview process. The child was first asked to draw any picture of his/her choice. The researchers would then prompt the child to explain what the picture meant and how it made him/her feel. The researchers recorded verbatim all interview interactions with an audio tape player.

The child was then asked to draw what s/he was most afraid of. The child was provided all the time s/he needed to complete the picture. When the child completed the primary fear object picture, the researchers requested for the child to tell them what the picture meant, how it made him/her feel, and what s/he thought would make him/her feel less scared of the identified primary fear object. The researchers asked the child how s/he was afraid of this fear object and how s/he could be less afraid of it. The participants' answers were recorded verbatim with an audio tape player. If at any point in the interview process the child appeared to be uncomfortable with a question, s/he was allowed to stop.

The child's identification of their primary fear object ranged in topical area and was placed into a thematic coding system (i.e. dark, lack of safety, being alone, nature, animals, imaginary/cultural creatures, scary movies, verbal arguments/disagreements, lack of basic needs). The research assistants developed the thematic coding system and conducted a reliability check of this scale which resulted in 100% agreement.

Picture Card Fear Object Interpretation–Child Interview

Another component of the study's questionnaire asked the children to interpret fear upon viewing a provided picture. The first image was that of a child hiding behind a lamppost. First, the researchers informed the participants that the child in the picture shared their age and gender and was afraid. Then, the researchers asked the participants what they believed the children in the picture was afraid of and why the child was afraid. The researchers continued to interview the child in regards to their interpretation of the picture by asking questions such as "How does the child in the picture feel inside when s/he is afraid," "How does his or her body tell himself or herself that s/he is afraid," "What is the first thing the boy or girl thinks of when s/he is afraid," and "What does s/he say to himself or herself when s/he is afraid?" Finally, the researchers asked participants to state what they thought the child in the picture would do when s/he was afraid and what the child in the picture could do to be less afraid. The second image used for this portion of the interview was that of a child sitting underneath a tree. The same protocol and interview questions were utilized for this portion of the interview.

The children's interpretations of the picture card fear objects ranged in topical area and were placed into the same thematic coding system as identified above (i.e. dark, lack of safety, being alone, nature, animals, imaginary/cultural creatures, scary movies, verbal arguments/disagreements, lack of basic needs). The research assistants developed the same thematic coding system and conducted a reliability check of this scale, which resulted in 100% agreement.

Results >>