Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences - Theses

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    Can conflict resolution education help young refugee students cope in the classroom?
    Cameron, Georgiana Elizabeth ( 2011)
    In the present study, a six week classroom-based conflict resolution program was trialled within mainstream and English language school settings to better understand the social and emotional needs of students with refugee backgrounds. The program, Play Fighting Fair, worked to create an inclusive classroom environment, strengthening relationships between students and staff by facilitating sessions about how to effectively cope with conflict. Mixed methods were used to gain insight into the experiences of students, staff and researchers/outsiders within these settings, and to measure social and emotional outcomes over time in order to evaluate the program’s effectiveness. Baseline and post-test data was collected from 80 students regarding their exposure to traumatic events, time in Australia, psychosocial functioning and coping styles— productive, nonproductive, reference to other (Adolescent Coping Scale; Frydenberg & Lewis, 1993). Within the sample, students with refugee backgrounds (38 in total) tended to be older, were more likely to be of Middle Eastern or African origin, to have been in the country less than a year and be attending a specialist English language school than non-refugee immigrant (19) and local (20) students. As expected, significant positive correlations were found between exposure to trauma and age, as well as exposure to trauma and nonproductive coping style across the sample at baseline. Contrary to expectation, an ANCOVA controlling for age did not find that refugees indicated more exposure to traumatic events compared to immigrants or locals. Follow-up chi-square analyses on traumatic event items revealed that refugees were more likely to have been exposed to a sudden death of a person, fire and war-zones. ANCOVAs controlling for age compared refugee, immigrant and local students on coping styles at baseline. When asked how they coped with interpersonal conflicts refugee students indicated reference to other coping style significantly more than immigrant or local students. In particular, refugee students were more likely to use coping strategies such as seeking spiritual support or seeking to belong. For refugee students, the effect of seeking spiritual support was higher in English language school settings compared to mainstream, and vice-versa for the effect of seeking to belong. In order to assess the utility of the program, univariate analyses of post-test coping style scores controlling for baseline scores and age were compared for intervention and comparison groups for Mainstream and Language school settings respectively. Simple contrasts indicated nonproductive coping style reduced significantly more within the intervention group versus the comparison group in the Language school setting. Qualitative observations and ratings of the program by the researcher/facilitator and teachers involved are integrated with quantitative findings to answer research questions. Findings are discussed in relation to previous literature from research with young refugees, as well as studies into the effectiveness of social and emotional learning/conflict resolutions programs in schools. The study’s limitations and implications focus on how findings can be used to improve policy, practice and research into the mental health of young refugees attending Australian schools.