Hamilton’s newcomer families display ‘remarkable resilience’ amid difficulties: study

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Published May 25, 2023 at 4:48 pm

Newcomer families have shown “remarkable resilience” as they try to adapt to a new life in Hamilton, but they believe more support is needed to help them with challenges such as the daily costs of living, housing and language barriers, according to a new study.

“Parents and children also asked for more opportunities to promote social connection and well-being, for example, through recreation and sports activities for children and youth,” Amanda Sim, assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University, told inthehammer.com. “Finally, there is a need for more culturally responsive mental health supports that address the specific stressors and needs that newcomer children and families experience.”

Sim said refugee parents in Hamilton have reported significantly higher levels of distress compared to the rest of the Canadian population.

“Refugee parents described experiencing many different challenges such as separation from loved ones, high housing and living costs, and language and employment barriers,” Sim explained in an email describing the study’s results.

Language barriers often made children and young people feel lonely and isolated, Sim added, making it difficult to make friends or understand their teachers. 

COURTESY CITY OF HAMILTON

COURTESY OF THE CITY OF HAMILTON

The City of Hamilton is hosting the “Thriving Together” art exhibition, showcasing artwork created by newcomer parents and children who participated in the study, reflecting on their new lives in Hamilton and their dreams for the future. With the support of local arts organization Centre[3] for Artistic + Social Practice, families created the mixed media art, featured at the exhibition on the second floor at city hall from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until June 7. Click here for a video of the research findings and select artwork.

Also at city hall, Newcomer Day is happening from 2 to 7 p.m. on Friday, May 26, as a celebration of diversity, featuring live entertainment and performances by newcomer artists, food trucks, an information and services fair, and family-friendly activities.   

COURTESY CITY OF HAMILTON

COURTESY OF THE CITY OF HAMILTON 

Despite these difficulties, many families demonstrated remarkable resilience,” Sim said about the study’s findings. “Leaning on family and faith was key to coping with stressors and impacts on mental health, and giving families the strength to persevere.”

Sim said the newcomer families in the study indicated that the friendliness of Canadians and services provided by organizations “were essential to adapting to their new lives in Hamilton.”

The study was done in partnership with Wesley, a non-profit organization providing settlement support services to refugees in Hamilton. Conducted from 2021 to 2022, researchers interviewed 40 refugee parents and 21 children from Syria, Iraq and Sudan who arrived in Hamilton from 2018 to 2021. 

Sim said 26 per cent of Hamilton’s population is foreign-born. Of the 20,145 newcomers who arrived in Hamilton from 2016 to 2021, 35 per cent came as refugees fleeing war and persecution in their home countries. Arabic is the most commonly spoken language in the home after English.

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