Peer relationships at residential care institutions for unaccompanied refugee minors: An under-utilised resource?

Guro B Omland & Agnes Andenas - Qualitative Social Work


Without access to their own families, how do young, unaccompanied refugee minors re-establish their social lives in ways that facilitate a sense of togetherness in their everyday lives during resettlement? This question was approached by exploring the young persons’ creation of relational practices and the kinds of sociomaterial conditions that seemed to facilitate the evolvement of these practices, including the professional caregivers’ contributions. Interviews with 11 boys and 4 girls (aged 13–16) from Afghanistan, Somalia, Angola and Sri Lanka, as well as their professional caregivers in their country of residence, Norway, were analysed systematically by searching for, and categorizing, the variation of relational practices among the young persons. Three overarching practices are presented. First, the young persons worked to connect past, present and future contexts through collective meaning-making practices. Second, they regulated their peers’ emotions through emotional care practices. Third, they widened each other’s social networks through practices of social inclusion. Following the resettlement procedure the young persons moved from one kind of institution (care centre) to other parts of the country and to another kind of institution (group home) where the relational practices mentioned above appeared to be less prevalent. The article suggests that arranging everyday life as collective enterprises, as well as housing peers with similar cultural backgrounds, were central for the evolvement of the relational practices. As such, the article both elucidates a range of health-promoting relational practices that the young persons’ realised as a group as well as how these practices are embedded in sociomaterial conditions.