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More than 22.5 million refugees are currently displaced globally, with refugees below the age of 18 years old making up more than half of this population. More than 3,600 have been resettled in Pennsylvania as of 2016, 875 in Philadelphia County. These families have come to the United States from countries such as Burma, Thailand, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Forced displacement, relocation, and resettlement have been shown to have long-lasting effects on youth, and there are demonstrated mental health disparities in refugee adolescents resettled in the United States when compared to the general population of US youth. The relationship between resilience and protective factors related to mental health and wellness has been shown to be important in designing appropriate intervention and prevention strategies. Some of the most important determinants may be related to the post-migration experiences and with the appropriate understanding of the adolescent experience, may be modifiable after resettlement.

An exploratory, qualitative study involving cross-sectional data and thematic analysis was performed. Six semi-structured interviews were conducted with key informants to better understand factors contributing to the experience of adolescent refugees in grades 9 through 12. Analysis highlighted five major themes in the key informant responses, health and social services, education, assimilation, connectedness, and emotional health. The data suggest room for fostering of resilience in these youth through better understanding of their specific needs and inherent vulnerabilities, improved utilization and access to health and social services, and the importance of understanding the unique impact of their identity as refugee adolescents on their development and daily experiences. The explanatory model developed based on the key informant data may be useful in informing future investigation and programming for the adolescent refugee community.