BC, Trinity College Dublin hold symposium on forced migration

Event will focus on resources and services to help forcibly displaced people rebuild their lives

At a time when the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide has reached unprecedented levels, the Boston College School of Social Work’s Research Program on Children and Adversity (RPCA) and the Trinity College Dublin Centre for Forced Migration Studies will hold a symposium this month in Dublin to discuss the spectrum of resources and services necessary to aid such populations in remaking their lives.

“Bridging the Humanitarian, Peacebuilding, and Development Nexus: Building Systems for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support for Populations Affected by War, Forced Displacement, and Resettlement through an Implementation Science Lens,” which takes place May 7 and 8, will feature in-person panel sessions focused on implementation science, MHPSS, and bridging the relief-to-development gap in post-conflict settings from key research institutions, community organizations, and international stakeholders such as UNICEF and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

As of mid-2023, UNHCR estimated that, for the first time in recorded history, more than 110 million people have been forcibly displaced—as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, or events seriously disturbing public order—and among them are more than 36.4 million refugees.

Theresa Betancourt

RCPA Director Theresa Betancourt (Lee Pelllegrini)

With that backdrop, the symposium will gather expertise from multiple organizations and disciplines, including Boston College and Trinity College Dublin faculty and students. BCSSW Dean Gautam Yadama will present opening remarks and BCSSW faculty and staff members María Piñeros-Leaño, William Byansi, Candace J. Black, Thomas Crea, Maryanne Loughry, and Theresa Betancourt will be among the speakers and moderators.

In addition, BC graduate students Abygail Meeks, Zina Aghdasi, Barbara Kozee, and Megan Taylor and undergraduate Samiksh Jain ’26 will serve as moderators and panelists highlighting their interest and career paths related to social work, nursing, theology, and international relations.

Wietse A. Tol, a professor in global mental health at the University of Copenhagen, and Washington University in St. Louis Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Initiatives Mary McKay will be the keynote speakers. Another highlight will be the four panels: “The Problem of the Relief-to-Development Gap,” “Bridging the Gap: How Can the Humanitarian Response Set Up Possibilities of Future MPHSS Systems Being Built,” “Lived Experience and Participatory Research Approaches,” and “Implementation Science and Scaling Globally.”

The symposium is the latest outgrowth of the BC-Trinity partnership, which after numerous small-scale collaborations over the years was formalized with a Memorandum of Understanding last summer. This event reflects the complementary expertise of RPCA and the Centre for Forced Migration Studies: RPCA utilizes observational research to understand trajectories of risk and resilience in children facing multiple forms of adversity while also using these research outcomes to develop and test evidence-based interventions to promote child health, development, and family functioning; the Centre for Forced Migration Studies, established in 2022, seeks to foster interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, develop teaching and training for individuals and organizations supporting refugees, and establish volunteer networks to help individuals who have been forced to migrate.

Salem Professor in Global Practice Theresa Betancourt, the RPCA director, said the symposium is an opportunity for social work and related fields to consider how best to bridge the “triple nexus” between humanitarian response, peacebuilding, and development actions in dealing with large-scale crises.  

 “Given the issues with forced migration and armed conflict around the world, we are all the more obligated to respond with evidence and bring the tools of disciplines—like implementation science—to strengthen systems holistically, so that we can plan for the long term, even while responding to acute crises caused by instability that affects the lives of children, youth, and families,” said Betancourt, who spoke at the Centre for Forced Migration Studies launch. “By pushing the field in this direction, societies can respond more effectively and sustainably as they consider how they can build back better and develop systems needed for their citizens’ mental health, as well as social service needs for communities and generations to come.”

BC’s Institute for the Liberal Arts is a co-sponsor of the symposium. For more information, visit the event website.