Children and families from a refugee background seem to escape the technical view usually adopted by educational and health practitioners, which is based on a mixture of diagnostic tests and special needs policies. This approach struggles to cope with the multiple needs–in terms of health, culture, language, and learning–involved in taking care of refugee children. Even though services multiply their efforts to ensure consultation and support, experiences of frustration and inadequacy about reciprocal relationships are common among practitioners and refugee families. Through an action research study in two educational and health services from northern Italy, we aimed to understand how schools and child psychology services can increase effectiveness and quality of programs addressed to refugee children and families. Investigation shows that in managing cases practitioners adopt an implicit ‘vulnerability paradigm’ that reinforce institutional control instead of empowering children and families. Nevertheless, we also found examples of alternative narratives and good practices emerging from practitioners who developed inter-professional and multi-agency cooperation. Results suggest that such practices would help services review their current approach by (1) developing a holistic perspective of the needs of refugee children and (2) fostering multi-agency work by disseminating inter-professional collaboration.

DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2019.1707301
ISSN: 1360-3116