About Us


This network launched in 2017, following the arrival of over 40,000 Syrian refugees who were welcomed to Canada in 2016/2017. This increase in refugees brought greater public attention to the wellbeing of the newcomer population in Canada and has further highlighted the need for meaningful occupational opportunities for newcomers. The existing research on this topic demonstrates the strong contributions OT can make toward the successful re-settlement and integration of refugees, as well as the need for greater OT involvement with newcomers living with disabilities. The launch of this network was motivated by the desire to build OT capacity in Canada to address these opportunities and needs.


Occupational therapists will feel capable of providing effective and culturally sensitive health care to newcomers, positively impacting newcomer:

  • Awareness of, and access to, OT services
  • Opportunities to engage in meaningful occupation
  • Community integration


To build the capacity of occupational therapists to work effectively with newcomer clients to address occupational injustices, both in mainstream settings and role-emerging areas, through education, resource sharing, leadership, and networking support.

We abide by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists’ position statement on human displacement:

“Individual occupational therapy practitioners together with their National Associations engage displaced people and partners to develop and carry out context-specific strategies ensuring the occupational needs and rights of displaced people are respected, protected, and fulfilled in their country.” (WFOT, 2014, p. 1)

We adopt Wilcock and Townsend’s (2009) definition of occupational justice as “the right of every individual to be able to meet basic needs and to have equal opportunities and life chances to reach toward her or his potential but specific to the individual’s engagement in diverse and meaningful occupation.” (p. 193)


This network will focus on refugee newcomers who have experienced forced migration and displacement – those who have fled persecution and violence in their country of origin. For the purpose of this network, the term newcomer covers all groups of refugees (e.g. Government-assisted refugees, privately sponsored refugees and refugee claimants).

We recognize and acknowledge that many different groups of people who have migrated to Canada can face challenges that are similar to those that refugees face (e.g., temporary foreign workers, international students, immigrants), and they may share similar vulnerabilities (e.g., language barriers, loss of role identity, unemployment, health concerns). Therefore, although our focus is on refugee newcomers, we anticipate that many different streams of newcomers could stand to benefit through the network’s activities to build OT capacity to address refugee concerns.

Guiding Principles

  • The occupational deprivation, marginalization, apartheid, alienation, or imbalance that newcomers often experience during their refugee experience and resettlement process, is an occupational injustice (Durocher, Gibson, & Rappolt, 2014). Therefore, in the creation of this network we accept “professional responsibility to identify and address occupational injustices and limit the impact of such injustices experienced by individuals” (World Federation of Occupational Therapists, 2006, p. 2).
  • Cultural humility and critical reflexivity are essential positions to adopt when working with newcomers in order to redress power imbalances and provide culturally-appropriate care (Beagan, 2015; Hammell, 2013).
  • Resilience is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity and trauma. Everyone has the capacity to develop resiliency throughout their life (Ungar, 2013). We want to empower newcomers by increasing resilience-promoting factors and addressing resilience-challenging factors. This includes ensuring access to resources that will support newcomers’ continued resiliency to cope with settlement challenges.
  • Belonging is a key dimension of occupation (Hammell, 2014; Hitch, Pepin, Stagnitti, 2014). Cultivating a sense of belonging is also an important component of successful resettlement. Therefore, we believe supporting newcomers in cultivating a sense of belonging through occupation, falls within the OT scope of practice.


  1. To create an online platform that facilitates the knowledge exchange and sharing of resources between OTs working with newcomers
  2. To develop and promote curriculum and professional development education materials that can be used to support licensed OTs to work more effectively with newcomers, as well as within OT programs in Canada to better prepare student OTs to work with newcomers
  3. To support OTs in becoming leaders and advocates in the healthcare field among their colleagues, regarding the provision of appropriate, culturally-sensitive care for newcomers
  4. To support OTs with practicing in role-emerging areas within the newcomer-serving field
  5. To promote collaboration and partnerships between OTs and settlement agencies, as well with other health care practitioners working with newcomers
  6. To facilitate and promote research that investigates the occupational issues of newcomers and the role of OTs in working with newcomers (at both national and international levels)


  • Sara Abdo
  • Carla Giddings

Please email the chairs at caotnewcomernetwork@gmail.com for more information.


Beagan, B. (2015). Approaches to culture and diversity: A critical synthesis of occupational therapy literature. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 82, 272-282.

Durocher, E., Gibson, B., & Rappolt, S. (2014). Occupational justice: A conceptual review. Journal of Occupational Science, 21, 419-430.

Hammell, K. (2013). Occupation, well-being, and culture: Theory and cultural humility. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 80, 224-234.

Hammell, K. (2014). Belonging, occupation, and human well-being: An exploration. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 8, 39-50.

Hitch, D., Pepin, G., & Stagnitti, K. (2014). In the footsteps of Wilcock, Part one: The evolution of doing, being, becoming, and belonging. Occupational Therapy Health Care, 28, 231-246.

Townsend, E. & Wilcock, A.A. (2004). Occupational justice and client-centred practice: A dialogue in progress. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy 71, 75-87 doi:10.1177/000841740407100203

Ugar, M. (2013). Resilience, Trauma, Context, and Culture. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 14, 255 – 266.

Wilcock, A.A. & Townsend, E.A. (2009). Occupational justice. In E.B. Crepeau, E.S. Cohn & B.A. Boyt Schell (Eds.), Willard & Spackman’s Occupational Therapy (11th ed., pp. 192-199). Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.


World Federation of Occupational Therapists. (2006). Position statement – Human rights. Retrieved from http://www.wfot.org/ResourceCentre.aspx

World Federation of Occupational Therapists. (2014). Position statement – Human displacement, revised. Retrieved from http://www.wfot.org/ResourceCentre.aspx