Practitioner Review: Assessment and treatment of refugee children and adolescents who have experienced war-related trauma


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

Kimberly A. Ehntholt, Lead Practitioner for Young Refugees in Lambeth, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, 35 Black Prince Road, London, SE11 6JJ, UK; Tel: 020 7411 4140; Fax: 020 7411 4170; Email:


Background:  Increasingly clinicians are being asked to assess and treat young refugees, who have experienced traumatic events due to war and organised violence. However, evidence-based guidance remains scarce.

Method:  Published studies on the mental health difficulties of refugee children and adolescents, associated risk and protective factors, as well as effective interventions, particularly those designed to reduce war-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, were identified and reviewed. The findings are summarised.

Results:  Young refugees are frequently subjected to multiple traumatic events and severe losses, as well as ongoing stressors within the host country. Although young refugees are often resilient, many experience mental health difficulties, including PTSD, depression, anxiety and grief. An awareness of relevant risk and protective factors is important. A phased model of intervention is often useful and the need for a holistic approach crucial. Promising treatments for alleviating symptoms of war-related PTSD include cognitive behavioural treatment (CBT), testimonial psychotherapy, narrative exposure therapy (NET) and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). Knowledge of the particular needs of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC), working with interpreters, cross-cultural differences, medico-legal report writing and the importance of clinician self-care is also necessary.

Conclusion:  More research is required in order to expand our limited knowledge base.