Psychological wellbeing, social support and social capital of unaccompanied migrant youths and young asylum seekers: the role of mentoring programmes with foreign youths in Catalonia

Alarcón Galindo, Xavier
Over the last decade the number of unaccompanied immigrant youths and asylum seekers has increased worldwide. The arrival of minors from Northwestern Africa and asylum seekers, mainly from Latin America and the Middle East, has triggered a series of responses and initiatives by governments and social entities. These young people in search of more promising futures follow different routes within the reception system. However, both groups (asylum seekers and unaccompanied immigrants) face similar difficulties during this settlement process. This process becomes an indeterminate stage in their lives in which they suffer from a wide range of vulnerabilities that have an impact on their mental health. In addition, the lack of support networks and social capital makes it difficult for these people to develop full autonomy and maintaining psychological and emotional well-being. In this context, several mentoring programmes have begun to respond to the difficulties faced by foreigners through fostering supportive relationships with people from civil society. This implies a change in the trend of population groups targeted by this social intervention methodology since it mainly has focused on accompanying general young population in their development. This thesis analyses the impact that these mentoring programmes have on unaccompanied young people and asylum seekers. For this research project, two studies were developed on mentoring programmes with young people of foreign origin. The first study consisted of a longitudinal mixed methods study in the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB) with unaccompanied youths. Data was obtained from 44 surveys with mentored (treatment group) and non-mentored (control group) male youths who had recently turned 18, as well as through 30 semi-structured interviews with mentored youths, their adult mentors, and non-mentored youths. The results of this study were presented in two of the published articles of this thesis. In the first article, we demonstrated that participation in the mentoring programme improved the mentored youths’ self-esteem, resilience and hope, as well as their desired or expected educational outcomes in this new context. We conclude that well-targeted and problem-specific mentoring programmes have positive and marked effects on unaccompanied migrant youths’ mental health. In the second article, we expose how the formal support provided by institutional agents is insufficient to fulfil the emotional needs of unaccompanied youths and we explore how the support of family caregivers and mentors encourages them to overcome challenges regarding their well-being. In the second study, we worked with asylum seekers who participated in a mentoring programme in a rural area of Catalonia. We interviewed almost all participants of that programme in this rural area, conducting in-depth interviews with mentees (eight young asylum seekers) and two discussion groups with their mentors (who lived in the main town of the region). In the third published article of this thesis, we discuss the various outcomes of this study as well as the different types of support that were present in mentoring relationships. The article also shows how bonding and bridging social capital were fostered, two important dynamics that can promote a more inclusive and welcoming rural community. ​
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