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Keywords:

  • Prevention;
  • art therapy;
  • immigrant and refugee children;
  • mental health

Objective:  This evaluative study assessed the effect of a creative expression program designed to prevent emotional and behavioral problems and to enhance self-esteem in immigrant and refugee children attending multiethnic schools.

Method:  The 12-week program involved 138 children, aged 7 to 13, registered in both integration classes designed for immigrant children and regular classes at two elementary schools. Pretest and posttest data were collected from the children themselves and from their teacher. Teachers used Achenbach's Teacher's Report Form to assess the emotional and behavioral symptoms of their pupils whereas children self-reported their symptoms with the Dominic, a computerized questionnaire. Self-esteem was measured with the Piers-Harris Self-Concept Scale administered by interviewers to the children.

Results:  At the end of the program, the children in the experimental groups reported lower mean levels of internalizing and externalizing symptoms and higher mean levels of feelings of popularity and satisfaction than the children in the control groups, when controlling for baseline data. In integration classes, the effect on self-esteem was especially notable in boys. The intervention's effect on internalizing and externalizing symptoms was not modified by gender, age or fluency in the mainstream language.

Conclusion:  The study provides some evidence that creative workshops in the classroom can have a beneficial effect on the self-esteem and symptomatology of immigrant and refugee children from various cultures and backgrounds. These quantitative results support previous qualitative analysis showing that the workshops participate in the reconstruction of a meaningful personal world while simultaneously strengthening the link of the child to the group. They also transform the teachers’ perceptions of newcomers by placing an emphasis on their strength and their resilience, while not negating their vulnerabilities.