The construction of a ‘traumatized’ refugee child in need of safety in Norwegian kindergartens


  • Eric Kimathi



safety, trauma, psy knowledge, kindergartens, institutional ethnography


This paper explores how kindergarten teachers relate to the concept of safety in the integration of refugee children. My research findings reveal that the concept of safety, or trygghet in Norwegian, is understood as emotional support and comfort accorded to children. The notion of trygghet emerges as an important value-laden concept that shapes and largely influences teachers’ everyday work, and how they relate to children and their parents. The idea of safety is traceable within an institutional discourse mediated by social technology, such as the International Child Development Programme and the Resource Centre for Violence and Trauma programmes, which have their roots in psy-discourses. My findings indicate that the construction of a potentially ‘traumatized’ refugee child is interconnected with the assumed need for safety. When using this discourse in their daily work, the kindergarten staff contribute to constructing and reproducing a specific category that I refer to as the ‘traumatized’ refugee child in need of safety. This standardized understanding risks categorizing refugee children, and highlights how professionals can get caught up in dominant discourses that universalize their routine practices.

Author Biography

Eric Kimathi

Assistant Professor, Ph.D. Research Fellow
Department of Sociology and Social Work, University of Agder


Bisson, J., Roberts, N. P., Andrew, M., Cooper, R., & Lewis, C. (2013). Psychological therapies for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults. Cochrane Database Systematic Review.

Bjerre, L. S., Madsen, O. J., & Petersen, A. (2021). ‘But what are we doing to that baby?’ Attachment, psy-speak, and designed order in social work. European Journal of Social Work.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment (Vol. 1). Basic Books.

Bråten, S. (2000). Modellmakt og altersentriske spedbarn. Essays on dialogue in infant and adult. Sigma.

Bråten, B., & Sönsterudbråten, S. (2017). Veiledningserfaringer: Försök med Veiledning (ICDP) av Foreldre med Radicaliserings Bekymringer og Forelder i Asylmottak. [Parental Guidance (ICDP) to Selected Target Groups Experiences from Two Pilot Projects]. FaFo report 2017:02.

Barne-, Ungdoms og Familiedirektoratet (2016). Håndbok for ICDP-veiledere Barne,-ungdoms of familiedirektorated.

Christie, H. J., Døhlie, E., & Eide, K. (2011). Omsorgen for enslige mindreårige flyktninger og asylsøkere [The care of unaccompanied minor refugees and asylum seekers]. Barn i Norge, 2011, 58-78.

De Bellis, M. D. (2001). Developmental traumatology: The psychobiological development of maltreated children and its implications for research, treatment, and policy. Development and Psychopathology, 13(3), 539–564.

Devault, M. L., & McCoy, L. (2006) Institutional ethnography: Using interviews to investigate ruling relations. In D. Smith (Ed.), Institutional ethnography as practice (pp. 15–44). Rowman and Littlefield.

DeVault, M. L. (2021). Elements of an expansive institutional ethnography: A conceptual history of its North American origins. In The Palgrave Handbook of Institutional Ethnography (pp. 11-34). Palgrave Macmillan.

Downey, L. (2007). Calmer classrooms: A guide to working with traumatised children. Child Safety Commissioner.

Eastmond, M. (2014). Refugee trauma as mobilising metaphor: Policy and practice in the integration and care of refugees in Sweden. In G. Overland, E. Guribye, & B. Lie, (Eds.), Nordic work with traumatised refugees: Do we really care. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Gullestad, M. (1997). A passion for boundaries: Reflections on connections between the everyday lives of children and discourses on the nation in contemporary Norway. Childhood-a Global Journal of Child Research 4(1): 19-42.

Hacking, I. (1999) Social konstruktion av vad? Thales.

Hundeide, K. (2010). The essence of human care: An introduction of the ICDP programme. ICDP International.

Israel, M. & Hay, I. (2006). Research ethics for social scientists. Sage.

Kalkman, K., Haugen, G. M. D. & Valenta, M. (2017). ‘They need to…’: Exploring practitioners’ attitudes in relation to newcomer migrant children’s needs in Norwegian daycare. Childhood, 24(3), 366‒380.

Kearney, G. P., Corman, M. K., Hart, N. D., Johnston, J. L., & Gormley, G. J. (2019). Why institutional ethnography? Why now? Institutional ethnography in health professions education. Perspectives on Medical Education, 8(1), 17‒24.

Keddell, E. (2017). Interpreting children’s best interests: Needs, attachment and decision-making. Journal of Social Work, 17(3), 324‒342.

Kimathi, E., & Nilsen, A. C. E. (2021). Managing categories: The role of social technology in kindergarten teachers’ work to promote early intervention and integration. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood.

Korsvold, T. (1998). For alle barn. Barnehagens fremvekst i velferdsstaten [For all children: The emergence of kindergarten in the welfare state]. Abstrakt forlag.

Lamb, C. S. (2020). Constructing early childhood services as culturally credible trauma-recovery environments: Participatory barriers and enablers for refugee families. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 28(1), 129–148.

Lauritzen, C., & Sivertsen, H. (2012). Children and families seeking asylum in Northern Norway: Living conditions and mental health. International Migration, 50(6), 195–210.

Lawrence, J. A., Kaplan, I., & Collard, A. H. (2019). Perspectives of refugee children resettling in Australia on indicators of their wellbeing. Child Indicators Research, 12(3), 943‒962.

Lie, B., Hauff, E., & Sveaass, N. (2014). Refugees and healthcare in Norway: Historical view and critical perspectives. In G. Overland, E. Guribye, & B. Lie (Eds.), Nordic work with traumatised refugees: Do we really care. Scholars Publishing.

Leibetseder, B. (2011). A critical review on the concept of social technology. Socialinës Technologijos/SocialTechnologies 1(1): 7–24.

Lipsky, M. (1980). Street-level bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the individual in public services. Russell Sage Foundation.

Lund, R. W. (2015). Doing the ideal academic-gender, excellence, and changing academia. Aalto University.

Lunneblad, J. (2017). Integration of refugee children and their families in the Swedish preschool: Strategies, objectives, and standards. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 25(3), 359‒369.

McCoy, L. (2006). Keeping the institution in view: Working with interview accounts of everyday experience. In D.E. Smith (Ed.), Institutional ethnography as practice (pp. 109–26). Rowman & Littlefield.

Munday, J. (2008). Introducing translation studies: Theories and applications (4th ed.). Routledge.

Nilsen, A. C. E. (2017). When texts become action. The institutional circuit of early childhood intervention. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 25(6), 918‒929.

Nilsen, A. C. E. (2021). Making sense of normalcy: Bridging the gap between Foucault and Goffman. In Institutional Ethnography in the Nordic Region (pp. 88‒100). Routledge.

Ogden, P., & Minton, K. (2000). Sensorimotor psychotherapy: One method for processing traumatic memory. Traumatology, 6(3): 149–173.

Park, M., Katsiaficas, C., & McHugh, M. (2018). Responding to the ECEC Needs of Children of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Europe and North America. Migration Policy Institute.

Rose, N. (1999). Governing the soul: The shaping of the private self. Free Association Books.

Rutter, J. (2006). Refugee Children in the UK. McGraw-Hill Education.

Signorelli, R. G., Gluckman, N. S., Hassan, N., Coello, M., & Momartin, S. (2017). Relationship building, collaboration, and flexible service delivery: The path to engagement of refugee families and communities in early childhood trauma recovery services. Children Australia, 42(3), 142‒158.

Smith, D. E. (2005). Institutional ethnography: A sociology for people. Rowman Altamira.

Tobin, M. (2016). Childhood trauma: Developmental pathways and implications for the classroom. Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

Vandekerckhove, A., & Aarssen, J. (2020). High time to put the invisible children on the agenda: Supporting refugee families and children through quality ECEC. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 28(1), 104‒114.

Veltman, M. W., & Browne, K. D. (2001). Three decades of child maltreatment research: Implications for the school years. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 2(3), 215–239.

Walby, K. (2013). Institutional ethnography and data analysis: Making sense of data dialogues. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 16(2), 141‒154.

Warming, H. (2011). Børneperspektiver: Børn som ligeværdige medspillere i socialt og pædagogisk arbejde. Akademisk Forlag.

Watters, C. (2011). Towards a new paradigm in migrant health research: Integrating entitlement, access, and appropriateness. International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, 7(3), 148–159.

White, S., Gibson, M., Wastell, D., & Walsh, P. (2019). Reassessing attachment theory in child welfare: A critical appraisal. Policy Press.




How to Cite

Kimathi, E. (2022). The construction of a ‘traumatized’ refugee child in need of safety in Norwegian kindergartens. Journal of Comparative Social Work, 17(2), 53–78.