Paediatric asylum seekers in Western Australia: Identification of adversity and complex needs through comprehensive refugee health assessment

Gemma Hanes, Jessica Chee, Raewyn Mutch, Sarah Cherian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


AIM: Asylum seekers (ASs) report high rates of trauma and difficulty accessing health and educational services. This study aims to ascertain the needs of paediatric ASs managed by the tertiary Western Australian paediatric Refugee Health Service (RHS), including demographic features, the range of health and psychosocial issues and ongoing management challenges.

METHODS: An audit of multidisciplinary RHS assessments, health records and hospital admissions for new AS patients (<16 years) between July 2012 and June 2016 was undertaken.

RESULTS: Records for 110 ASs were reviewed (mean age 6 years, standard deviation 4.72 years). Multiple issues (medical, psychological, developmental, educational) were identified after the first tertiary assessment (median 4, interquartile range (IQR) 3-6) compared to referral sources (median 1, IQR 0-2, P < 0.001). The median number of issues per child at audit completion was 6 (IQR 4-7, P < 0.001). Multiple refugee adverse childhood experiences were identified, with all experiencing >3 (median 4, IQR 4-5). Most had detention experience (107/110, 97.2%), family separation (91/108, 84%) and interrupted education (41/46, 89.2%). The median duration of detention was 7 months (IQR 3-12.5 months) at time of initial review across multiple sites (median 2, IQR 1-3 locations). High rates of hospital interaction were evident, with 45.4% requiring hospital admission and 36% presenting to the emergency department. The median number of outpatient appointments attended per child was 5 (IQR 2-8). Parental and child mental health concerns were identified in 53.6 and 46.3%, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: Paediatric ASs have complex trauma backgrounds with exposure to multiple adverse events within disrupted family units. The majority of Western Australian ASs assessed demonstrated negative health or education sequelae compounded by detention not previously identified prior to comprehensive paediatric review. Our data support the urgent removal of ASs from held detention. Ongoing holistic assessment and management engaging multidisciplinary trauma-informed paediatric refugee services to optimise health and well-being is recommended.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1367-1373
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Paediatrics and Child Health
Issue number11
Early online date13 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


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