Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Refugee Children Exposed to Intimate Partner Violence: Facilitating their Resilience

Part One of this two part series discusses the effects of exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) on refugee children and ways to reduce this exposure by helping their mothers achieve safety. This piece discusses how to work directly with refugee children impacted by IPV to boost their resilience and recovery.

Identifying Children Exposed to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)

While many behaviors signal a child in distress, no behavior in and of itself is diagnostic of a child exposed to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Some children have difficulty concentrating and under-achieve academically, while others flourish in the safety of the classroom. Some evidence post traumatic symptoms such as traumatic arousal (difficulty sitting still or problems sleeping), numbness, intrusive memories, and a reduced ability to cope with stress. Some children have mostly internalizing behaviors such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal, while other show externalizing behaviors including aggression, delinquency, substance abuse and tantrums. Children in homes with IPV are hospitalized more than other children, and are more likely to suffer from physical symptoms such as colds, bed-wetting, and sore throats. Frequent visits to the school nurse may be a sign that a child has been exposed to IPV or other trauma.

We should be especially concerned if we see a child who acts out IPV in imaginary play, who is aggressive or overly submissive with their peers, or a child who shows an exaggerated startle response to loud noises or voices. The best way to determine if a child has been exposed to IPV is to ask directly. Depending on the child’s age and how guarded they are, children might respond with important information to a general prompt such as:
  • Tell me about your family
  • Tell me how your mom is doing
  • Tell me about how things are at home
You’ll notice, these “questions” are phrased as open-ended prompts, so children will be more likely to respond with a narrative rather than a single word such as “fine.”

Inquiring about people’s families is common in cultures throughout the world, and some children will respond openly to this kind of prompt. However, many children have been told not to discuss family matters with outsiders. If we have a reason to suspect that IPV ocurrs in a child’s home, or if we see a child who is unusually aggressive, passive or sad, we can ask direct questions. For instance:
  • Tell me about what worries you
  • Tell me about what scares you
  • Who fights with whom in your home? What usually happens?
  • Who is the boss in your family? How do you know?
Mandated Reporting

In many but not all states, exposing a child to domestic violence is considered a form of child abuse or neglect, and requires reporting to child protective services (CPS) or the police. People in those states who are mandated reporters of child abuse are therefore required by law to report children who they suspect or know are exposed to IPV. People who work in states that do not require the reporting of children exposed to IPV may still do so if they believe the exposure is potentially dangerous or traumatizing for the child. Whether CPS will intervene for exposure to domestic violence without other forms of child abuse depends on local practices and the perceived level of risk to the child.

Many people equate reporting a family to child protective services with forcing a child into foster care, but that is always a last resort. More commonly, CPS will do one of the following instead (NCANDS 2015): 1) screen out the report (42%); 2) investigate and decide a child is no longer at risk, sometimes providing a family with voluntary services; or 3) provide ongoing services to a family including regular social work visits. Phrased another way, out of 4.1 million referrals to CPS in 2016 alleging 7.4 million maltreated children, fewer than 204,000 (2.8%) ended up in foster care. More than 1.3 million children and their families received some kind of service as a result of the reports, even if no abuse was confirmed. This is a lot of services reaching many people through those reports, including psychotherapy, medical attention, access to subsidized childcare or housing, help with an abusive spouse, and parenting classes.

Children who are exposed to IPV are also more likely to be abused themselves than other children. Therefore, making that call to CPS about suspected IPV may bring to light other problems that need intervention. As much as we hate to make that call, it is far worse to receive a call from a fatality investigation team and know that we failed to intervene when we could have saved a life.

The following tips are designed to boost the resilience and recovery of children exposed to IPV. That is, their ability to bounce back and achieve their potential after this traumatic exposure:

Support Academic Success: Collaborate with classroom teachers and school counselors to improve refugee children’s likelihood of succeeding academically. This may involve helping with class selection, accessing tutors and interpreters, and establishing regular “check-ins” with school counselors. Teachers and administrators from elementary through high school are often grateful for information about refugee families and the challenges they face.

Lower Stress at Home and School: Children exposed to IPV may be triggered by a generally loud environment, sudden loud noises, uncertainty, and interpersonal conflict. Teachers and administrators who understand this may be able to make changes to support the traumatized children in their building (see https://traumasensitiveschools.org). Additionally, we can help teachers and families understand that predictability reduces anxiety in traumatized children. A predictable sequence of activities including regular mealtimes and bedtimes allow children to relax.

Support Reading: Not only are strong reading skills a key to academic success, but many traumatized children find safe haven and behavioral models in books. Bring refugee children to the public library, help them get library cards and understand the library’s rules. Also bring children to their schools’ library and help them bond with librarians. Teach refugee parents the importance of supporting their children’s reading in general and accessing books through libraries in particular.

Support Social Success: help refugee children access outlets when they can excel such as sports, chess club, performing and visual arts, scouts, and others. The adults who facilitate these activities are often willing to waive the usual fee if approached by a refugee advocate. These activities enhance children’s social success, self-expression, and bonding with helpful adults. Choosing the right activities can also help traumatized children and teens with their particular areas of deficiency. For example, aggressive children learn self-control and discipline through studying martial arts, and shy children learn social skills through sports, dance, theater, chorus, or other group activities.

Provide Access to Counseling: individual, group, family, or sibling group counseling can help children cope. Children can access these services in school or in the community. Children who have been exposed to IPV should have opportunities to discuss the IPV explicitly. Many children also benefit from support groups for children whose parents have recently divorced or separated (called “the banana splits” in my children’s elementary school), or more general groups where children can discuss their issues. Such groups help them establish bonds with other children as well as with the group facilitator, and can provide tremendous relief. Cognitive behavioral therapy may especially help children who are aggressive, withdrawn, or powerless.

Many children from refugee families grow up into remarkable adults—successful in their work and personal life and contributing to society. This is also true for children who grow up in homes with IPV. Once they are safe, the children benefit from allies and from information and programs to help them overcome their trauma, and thrive.

For more on Family Strengthening check out our Highlighted Resources List.

This month's guest blogger: Lisa Aronson Fontes, Ph.D., is a senior lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the author of Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship, and Child Abuse & Culture: Working with Diverse Families.

Refugee Children Exposed to Intimate Partner Violence: Protection through Reducing Their Exposure

This piece discusses the effects of exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) on refugee children and ways to reduce this exposure by helping their mothers achieve safety. A second piece outlines ways to boost the resilience of children who have been exposed to IPV.

©istockphoto.com/Juan Monino
Children suffer when they witness conflict and violence, especially when it involves their parents. The stress of this exposure overwhelms their developing bodies and brains, contributing to a range of negative social, medical, and mental health outcomes. In fact, “mother treated violently” is one of the ten original Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) known to impact children’s health and well-being into adulthood (see https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html).

Children who are refugees or whose parents are refugees often endure multiple ACES including the death or disappearance of close family members, traumatic dislocations, and disruption of their support systems. Facing culture shock, discrimination, poverty and racism compound their difficulties (Cronholm et al, 2015). Add exposure to parental violence into the mix, and they may be devastated. The more of these stressors children face, the more their development will be impacted, unless they receive exceptional support and intervention.

Children’s Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)

Because they often do not speak the language of their host country and may know few people beyond their community, refugee women who are victims of IPV may not know where to turn. Their children suffer the consequences, alongside the abused moms.

Research shows that children do know about violence between their parents, even when parents think they are keeping it secret. Children may view an abusive incident or hear it from another room. Children often suffer the disturbing after effects, such as witnessing a parent’s bruises or swollen eyes, seeing broken objects in the home, or suffering from the absence of one parent after a violent incident.

IPV consists of much more than physical assaults; it may include isolating, verbal abuse, stalking, manipulating a partner financially, and sexual assault or coercion. Exposure to these coercive control tactics also harms children. A child who views his father dominating his mother and curtailing her freedom learns this way of interacting. In school, he may try to mimic the authoritarianism and heavy hand he has witnessed at home by fighting when he cannot get his way. In contrast, some children exposed to IPV become overly submissive and self-blaming, modeling themselves on their victimized mothers.

IPV also interferes with the parent/child bond. Overwhelmed by the abuse, victimized mothers sometimes withdraw from their children and become emotionally unavailable, or they may be irritable and respond harshly. Often, men who abuse women also abuse their children, sometimes as a means to control their wives. In all these ways, IPV damages the attachment between children and their caretakers, placing them at risk for a variety of behavior and relationship problems throughout their lives.

Exposure to IPV terrorizes children, and can lead to post traumatic symptoms such as traumatic arousal (difficulty sitting still or problems sleeping), numbness, intrusive memories, and a diminished ability to cope with stress. The emotional effects of IPV exposure include depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, traumatic stress reactions, school failure, and social withdrawal. Some children also show externalizing behaviors including aggression, delinquency, and substance abuse.

Ending IPV Helps Refugee Children

If we can help a mother live free from IPV, then we are protecting her children from the pernicious effects of that abuse. Sometimes abusers can learn to change; but most are unwilling or unable to do so unless they receive substantial pressure from their communities and the law, and participate in Batterer Intervention Programs (BIPS). Anger management classes are not as effective as BIPs for someone who abuses his partner since control—rather than anger—is at the root of IPV (Klein, 2009).

Clergy within refugee communities are often ill equipped to handle domestic violence in families, and yet they are the first authorities many women consult when distressed. Often these clergy are exclusively men; and they interpret religious texts in ways that either condemn or support domestic violence, depending on their own perspectives. If the clergy member does not know what to do or where to refer a victim for further support, he may urge a victim to be patient, thus encouraging her to remain in a situation that is dangerous for her and her children. We must help clergy and other refugee community leaders understand IPV and see how it not only harms women and their children, but also hurts the reputation of entire communities.

Build Trust with IPV victims:
Many refugees have experienced discrimination by neighbors and hateful speech by politicians both in their original countries and in the U.S. Why should they trust us concerning intimate family matters such as IPV? We build trust with families over time by showing ourselves worthy: putting in the hours with them, and bringing them concrete help with practical matters such as housing, food, school supplies, etc.

Explain the Effects of IPV on Children: In many refugee cultures, community members, extended family, and religious leaders will all pressure a woman to maintain her marriage at all costs—even when she is being victimized by her husband. However, the idea of protecting her children may motivate her to accept the resources she needs to break free. When we speak with a woman about IPV, we must emphasize the risks for her children as well as for her. Children’s school performance, and physical and mental health all suffer in homes with IPV.

Provide Access to Resources: IPV victims are often unfamiliar with their rights and the services available in their new country, especially if these do not exist in their country of origin. Help them establish links with DV advocates, legal aid, women’s shelters, hotlines, knowledgeable and sympathetic clergy, and relevant websites.

Coordinate with Other Agencies: Refugee resettlement professionals often strive mightily to keep families away from child protective services. However, sometimes CPS’s resources and leverage prove useful in keeping refugee children safe.
Elena was determined to stay with her abusive husband, for the sake of her family’s reputation. A concerned teacher called child protective services (CPS) about Elena’s daughter’s reports of her father’s abuse of her mother. When CPS understood the extent and frequency of the abuse against Elena, they asked her to kick her husband out of the home, which she felt unable to do. CPS then temporarily took custody of the children and ordered Elena to attend a series of classes on domestic violence (DV) as part of the plan to regain custody. The course helped Elena realize all the ways her children were affected by their exposure to her victimization. She engaged fully with child protective services, the police, and the DV agency so she could live in safety with her children, without her husband.
Initially, Elena’s participation in the DV support group was difficult because the DV agency did not provide an interpreter. The refugee resettlement advocate interpreted for Elena in the first couple of sessions, while pressing the DV agency to fulfill their legal obligation to provide an interpreter, which they eventually did.
After the father was removed from the home, the children spoke more freely about the ways in which he had also abused them. The father was obliged to participate in a Batterer’s Intervention Group, but refused to do so and never returned to Elena’s home. He saw his children mostly at community events, and on occasional supervised visits. Elena and her children also received family counseling, which helped them speak more openly with each other. The children’s school performance improved, and they all agreed they were better off without their father in the home. While the ending to Elena’s story is far from ideal, she and her children were able to achieve safety and freedom from abuse.
Professionals from outside a given community sometimes reflexively decide that the IPV is “cultural” and walk away from it, considering it unsolvable or beyond their purview. The tools that support all couples with IPV—including safety planning, counseling, economic empowerment, protective orders, batterer intervention groups and the arrest of perpetrators—should be considered for refugee couples, just like other couples. Certainly, we should not deny refugee victims access to these resources simply because we assume the violence is normative or acceptable in their culture. All women in the U.S. deserve the same protections from control and assault in their homes.

Important warning: The period in which a woman separates from a violent or controlling man is particularly risky for her, especially if he has access to a gun; if he has previously strangled, raped, or threatened her with a weapon; and if he has been controlling Spencer & Stith, 2018). For this reason, it is essential to join with domestic violence advocates for safety planning. Clients and their advocates can go to www.domesticshelters.org for information about local resources.

Children need affection, stability, and guidance, as much as healthy food, rest, and stimulation. But above all else, children need to be safe and protected. Eliminating their exposure to IPV is a step toward providing that safety.

In Part Two, we examine how to work directly with refugee children impacted by IPV to boost their resilience and recovery.

For more on Family Strengthening check out our Highlighted Resources List.

This month's guest blogger: Lisa Aronson Fontes, Ph.D., is a senior lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the author of Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship, and Child Abuse & Culture: Working with Diverse Families.

Cronholm, P.F., Forke, C.M., Wade, R., Bair-Merritt, M.H., Davis, M., Harkins-Schwarz, M., Pachter, L.M., Fein, J.A. (2015). Adverse childhood experiences: Expanding the concept of adversity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 49, 354-361.


Spencer, C.M., Stith, S. M. (2018). Risk factors for male perpetration and female victimization of intimate partner homicide: A meta-analysis. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 19, 1-14.

Friday, June 1, 2018

“I Have", “I Am,” & “I Can.”: Serving Students with Interrupted Formal Education

What is SIFE and who fits into this definition?

SIFE is an acronym for Students with Interrupted Formal Education. Some areas of the country have now adopted the acronym SLIFE, coined by Andrea DeCapua, ED.D., author of MALP Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradym, and several books on the topic of struggling learners, who added the word ‘limited’ to the mix to signify the extremely low educational background of some SIFE children.

Most experts use the definition of SIFE as that of a student who has missed a significant amount of educational time, but what exactly that means is up for interpretation. For students who have experienced a traumatic event that resulted in a disruption of schooling, it could be six months to a year (such as the many children who have been displaced because of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico). For most students however, the more common measurement is two years or more.

In the United States, most of the school age children who fall into this category come from either Latin America or have been resettled as refugees. By far, the greatest number of SIFE students comes from Mexico or Central America (predominately Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras). For many of these children, their schooling in their home countries was disrupted by violence and gang warfare. They may not have been able to afford the uniforms and textbooks required for school attendance, even though the school itself was free. In each of these countries, compulsory education ends at middle school, so students often stop attending sometime around twelve or thirteen. Economics may have pushed these children into employment or driven them north to make money for their families. For other students, they feel old enough to make the journey north to reunite with their mother or father who came years earlier.

©Getty Images/pixelheadphoto
The second largest group is refugee children from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Far too many of
these children spent years in refugee camps and had extremely limited access to schooling. Some are
not literate in their home language and may need to build basic literacy and numeracy skills before being able to access the typical curriculum of other children their age. Many SIFE will benefit from cultural and emotional support that builds on their resilience as they adjust to a new home, particularly those who have endured traumatic journeys.

Consider these four challenges that many SIFE learners face as they begin the adjustment to schooling in their new country:

  1. Frequently suffering from stress-related issues
  2. Have special literacy and academic requirements due to missing years of school
  3. May experience frequent and strong bouts of frustration with their inability to match peer performance
  4. Much higher risk of dropping out[i]
This final bullet is confirmed by a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2005 that found that immigrant students with missing pieces of their education have an 80% higher risk of dropping out.

How can schools and communities support students with interrupted education?

Supports for these students fall into two general categories: academic or classroom-based supports and non-academic supports provided outside the typical school day. Let’s look first at the types of supports that can be provided within the school and the classroom. We recommend that following activities or programs to assist SIFE learners make the adjustment to their new school:
  • Training for all personnel who work with SIFE, including secretaries and cafeteria workers
  • Developing an atmosphere of acceptance, seeing diversity as an asset
  •  Programming options that support literacy development and “fill in” content gaps in content areas
  • Expanded learning opportunities such as after school and Saturday classes, summer school, or one-to-one tutoring
  • Courses that assist students make the transition from what they know to what they are expected to be able to do (especially important in math)
  • Scheduling options that may accommodate students who work
At the classroom level, teachers are critical to this transition. Developing lessons that build upon what students already know and can do, while introducing new information in a way that is not overwhelming, can speed up the integration and academic process.
  • Activate prior knowledge and build background at the start of each lesson
  • Provide visuals when possible 
  • Choose support materials that is grade appropriate yet is visually appealing
  • Utilize hands-on and group work
  • Limit the amount of new information
  • Use frequent, informal comprehension checks
  • Adapt assessments and grading as needed
Finally, teachers can assist students as they move from overcoming traumatic experiences to developing internal resilience. We recommend a model based on the work of Edith Grotberg, researcher with the International Resilience Project in the Netherlands, which suggests that children draw their resilience from three sources which she has labeled “I Have, “I Am,” and “I Can.”[ii]

©istockphoto.com/Santiago Nunez
“I Have” leads the student to look outward at the people and community groups that provide support on a regular basis, such as religious organizations, ethnic ties, and friends.

“I Am” focuses the students on what strengths they already have inside them that has helped them to survive and thrive so far.

“I Can” encourages students of any age to think about what they already can do and what they want to be able to do in the future. Students create both short-term and long-term goals and discuss how they can reach these goals in realistic and measurable ways.

For more information on SIFE, you can check out Students with Interrupted Formal Education: Bridging Where They Are and What You Need by Brenda Custodio and Judith O’Loughlin, published in 2017 by Corwin Press. Stay tuned for a supplemental webinar on this topic.

This month's guest bloggers: Brenda Custodio and Judith B. O’Loughlin. Brenda Custodio is a former ESL teacher and building administrator from Columbus, OH.  She is a frequent presenter with Judy across the country on SIFE and newcomers. Judith O’Loughlin is a former elementary ESL and special education teacher from New Jersey who now lives in California. Judy and Brenda together wrote a book on Students with Interrupted Formal Education.

[i] Robertson, K & Lafond, S. How to Support ELL Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFEs)  http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/how-support-ell-students-interrupted-formal-education-sifes

[ii] Grotberg, E.H. (1995) A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit. The Hague: Bernard van Leer Foundation. Retrieved on December 18, 2012 from http://resilnet.uiuc.edu/library/grotb95b.html#chapter1

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Supporting Newcomer Students & Parent Civic Engagement in the Schools

This month's guest blogger: Laura Gardner is a social worker and the founder of Gardner & Associates: Immigrants, Refugees, and Schools (www.immigrantsrefugeesandschools.org) which provides training, technical assistance, and consultative services to school districts and other organizations on a variety of topics related to social work, education, immigration, and refugee resettlement. Laura worked for BRYCS from 2006-2012 where she managed technical assistance to Refugee School Impact Grantees.

©Getty Images/Juanmonino
After working for BRYCS with Refugee School Impact Grantees, I worked in the central office of a large school district where I managed family and community engagement for our English Learner, immigrant, and refugee communities. Having worked in different systems and at various levels has provided me with multiple points of view. These multiple perspectives continue to drive my work at finding ways immigrants and refugees can become more civically engaged with their local school systems in order to support and advocate for students. 

According to one model, there are four levels of immigrant parent involvement in schools: cultural survivors, cultural learners, cultural connectors, and cultural leaders. Visually, this model is shaped like a pyramid and closely resembles the stages of immigrant integration. “Cultural survivors” are often new to the country and their priority is meeting their families’ basic needs. They typically have little time to learn about how to navigate their local school system. “Cultural learners” begin to learn about how schools work in this country, but usually require the help of interpreters and translated documents as they navigate the system.“Cultural connectors” develop greater familiarity with the school system and often share information and opportunities with “cultural survivors” and “cultural learners.” Finally, “cultural leaders” are leaders in their respective immigrant communities and advocate for the needs of immigrant students and families, including those in the three earlier stages.

It is important that school information and programming for refugee and immigrant parents be geared towards the stage of parent involvement that they are in. The information below about parental rights, opportunities to join committees, and so on is not appropriate for newly arrived refugees and other cultural survivors. The following information is primarily geared towards refugee community leaders and other cultural leaders as well as refugee resettlement staff.

Parental Rights in Public Schools

There are numerous rights and responsibilities of parents with children in U.S. schools. Districts typically put out a parent handbook at the beginning of each school year that outlines these rights. It is a good idea for refugee resettlement staff and refugee and immigrant community leaders to keep copies of these handbooks around for when questions arise or there is a need to appeal a decision made by a district administrator.
A few rights worth mentioning:
  • All parents have the right to receive information in a language they understand. For example, this could include information shared in parent teacher conferences, information sent home in a child’s backpack, and so on. This is a federal civil rights obligation. In 2015, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released a joint Fact Sheet on “Information for Limited English Proficient Parents and for Schools and School Districts that Communicate with Them” in English and a number of other languages. In addition, there is BRYCS’ publication on Federal Requirements to Provide Interpretation & Translation in Schools. Sometimes school districts are not aware that they must provide these services and immigrant and refugee parents and community leaders may need to advocate for these services. School districts may not rely solely on Refugee School Impact dollars, or any federal funding source, for all interpretation and translation needs because federal funds may not be used to fund activities to implement a local school district’s civil rights obligations. 
  • All parents and community members have the right to weigh in on school board policies and regulations. Every public school district has a school board and every school board has a process in place for developing policies and regulations, which includes collecting parent and community input. For example, school boards seek input on policies related to bullying, school climate, cultural competency, equity, and so on. There are usually a couple of options for parents and community members wishing to provide input – typically online or in person. An online option may be difficult for non-English speakers and/or those without access to technology. Providing in-person feedback through an interpreter during a school board meeting may be easier and frankly, more effective. Remember, it is your right to request an interpreter to speak in front of the school board. 
  • All parents and community members have the right to provide input on the school district’s budget and how funds are being spent. Every school district has an annual process for developing their budget. Nearly every district receives some federal and state funding, but usually around half of a district’s budget comes from local funds (typically, from property taxes). It may be somewhat difficult to have an impact on the overall amount of money a district has to work with, but it is quite easy to share one’s opinion on what it should be spent on. It is important to take the time to learn how the school district budget is developed in your area because you can always try asking for additional staff such as teachers for English Learners, interpreters, school counselors, or whatever your refugee or immigrant community is in need of. Asking for what you need does not guarantee you will get it, but you must start somewhere. Whether you are in a small district where the budget is in the thousands or a large district where it is in the billions, input from resettlement staff and cultural leaders can truly make a difference. Input related to a district’s budget is usually provided through public budget hearings or by writing letters or emails. As stated above, individuals have the right to provide their input in the language they are most comfortable in. 
Other Opportunities for Refugee Parents and Community Leaders

There are other opportunities for refugee and immigrant parents and community leaders to engage with their local school system. For example:
  • Curriculum Committees: Many, if not most, school districts put together committees to review curricula and typically these committees include parents or community members. Refugee resettlement staff or community leaders may apply to join any committee they wish, but international perspectives can be particularly impactful on social studies (including history, geography, global studies, etc.), language learning, and literature. 
  • Diverse Workforce Committees: The majority of teachers in the U.S. continue to be white and female,[i] even while student bodies continue to diversify. Refugee resettlement staff and community leaders can be instrumental in helping human resources departments tap into the strengths of their communities. Most districts are desperately looking to hire more multilingual, multicultural employees. Refugees and immigrants have so much to offer school districts, with their diverse skills and life experiences. For example, a school district could hire a French-speaking refugee or immigrant to teach students French or a refugee from Southeast Asia who to teach history. (Refugees who were teachers in their home countries will likely have to start out as paraprofessionals while they deal with additional coursework or recertification, but it’s much easier to gain employment as a teacher if you are already employed by the school system in another capacity.) 
  • School Improvement Committees: Most schools have in place some type of “school improvement plan.” It may be called something different depending on the district, but these are plans that schools put together to create goals towards improving students’ academic achievement. These committees often brainstorm ways to increase family engagement and what better way to gather ideas than to ask the parents themselves? These committees are always stronger with the voices of parents and community members. 
  • Parent/Community Committees: Some districts have committees specifically for parents and community members. These committees may meet with board members or the superintendent and/or may be more of a work group or task force dedicated to a particular topic. These types of parent groups tend to lack diversity, and refugees and immigrants would provide a helpful, much needed perspective. For example, a committee of parents could be tasked with collecting parental input on a proposed redistricting plan. Without refugee and immigrant parent leaders present, this information would not likely get to the communities that would be most impacted by such changes.
©istockphoto.com/Steve Debenport
It is also important to note that in the 2018-19 school year, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will be implemented at the district level. ESSA reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It was signed into law on December 10, 2015 and states have since submitted accountability plans to the U.S. Education Department. ESSA has increased emphasis on family and community engagement, particularly with those learning English, so it is a perfect time for refugee parents, community leaders, and Refugee School Impact staff to get more involved. It is crucial to get involved in supporting refugee and immigrant students and families at the district level, such as by speaking at school board meetings or sharing communities’ needs when budgets are created. Ultimately, these actions will help contribute to more civic engagement and integration of refugee and immigrant families into communities.

[i] https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2017072

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

What Now? Post-High School, College & Career Readiness for Refugee Youth

For newcomer teens and families, deciding what to do after high school can be difficult and filled with unknowns. The process of preparing for and applying to colleges is complex and likely unfamiliar to newcomer families, who are also apt to need information on the often difficult issue of financing college. For youth looking to move directly into the workplace, options may appear limited unless they receive help identifying training programs and other possibilities.
Some tips for helping newcomer students make decisions about life after high school:
  • Mentorship can be invaluable. Mentors can provide a connection to the larger community, a sense of belonging, as well as practical assistance in navigating the college application process, identifying and applying for financial aid, or exploring vocational and career training programs. Mentors are able to provide the kind of ongoing one-on-one assistance many students need and which school guidance counselors may not have the time for.
  • Help youth learn about the variety of options available: two year and four year colleges; public vs. private schools, technical/vocational programs; dual enrollment and other career training programs they can participate in during high school.
  • Encourage newcomer teens to stay in school. Many newcomers may have had interrupted schooling and will also be struggling with learning a new language. The process can be discouraging, and if their family is struggling financially it may seem appealing to leave school and begin work. Help kids understand the importance of a high school diploma and postsecondary education in the U.S., especially in terms of long term earning potential and the variety of jobs available.
“My advice is if you have chance of going to college, use it. I know sometimes college is challenging but it’s better because you don’t want to work for the rest of your life in the same place every day. Jobs are always there. They can wait.” –Ali, refugee youth from Somalia
College Preparation
For newcomer teens and parents, it may not be clear what is needed to prepare for college. Talk to teens about the career they want and then discuss the steps necessary to get there.   
  • Host or bring teens to bilingual information sessions at high schools on college admissions processes and financial aid. Work with local colleges to host bilingual events to share information on their application process and financial aid.
  • Schools can hold information sessions during the school day for all juniors or seniors and post information on postsecondary education options around the school.
  • Advanced college prep courses are important; for students with adequate English, it may be necessary to help parents to advocate for teens to be enrolled in these courses. For students who are not ready largely due to language barriers, community college can be a good option for gaining college credit and English proficiency. Some ELL students may still be able to participate in advanced math or science courses.
  • Partner with local colleges:
    • ELL classes can take students to a local community college to explore the campus as well as visit the international student or ELL center. Make students aware of the supportive services available to them at the community college.
    • Invite former ELL students who are now in two or four year colleges to speak to ELL classes.
    • Promising practices: Yakima Valley Community College has had a weekly segment on a local Spanish language radio program; Washington State University has a Spanish language website with multimedia resources on going to college.
Promising Practices: GirlForward matches female mentors with high school age refugee girls in Chicago and Austin to provide educational support, including assistance accessing higher education. PAIR in Houston partners refugee youth with college students to assist with acculturation, education, college preparation and career goals.
Involving Parents
  • Host information sessions or create education programs for parents on college and career readiness. Send home invitations in families’ native languages and provide interpreters in major languages spoken. Share information on scholarships for immigrant and refugee students.  
  • Don’t assume parents and teens know what college readiness entails in the U.S., including what courses to take. At information sessions, consider inviting refugee or immigrant parents who have gone through the college application process already so they can share their experiences. 
  • Help parents understand the timeline for college applications. Parents may rely on their older children to babysit younger siblings or take care of household chores. If parents understand when things like college essays or applications are due they may be able to give their child time to work on them.
  • Parent centers within schools can be a great resource. They can be staffed with parent volunteers and provide information about the school and curricula as well as offer information on college and career readiness. A parent center can also offer access to computers and allow parents to meet each other and share information.
Promising Practice: Refugee School Impact Grant money can be used in various ways to support refugee youth in moving toward college or a career. Massachusetts RSIG has funded bilingual/bicultural parent liaisons to connect with parents and increase parent engagement in schools. It has also supported a partnership with a local food growing non-profit; refugee youth involvement has included internships and volunteer work which provides work experience, community engagement, and leadership skills.
Career Preparation and Workplace Readiness
  • Newcomer students may be particularly drawn to employment options after high school especially if they are feeling economic pressure to supplement their family’s income. These students may need help uncovering the variety of training options available to help them get better paying, more rewarding jobs.
  • Help students enroll in career and technical education (CTE) classes and programs within your school district. Some classes may be taught within traditional high schools, while others are held at community colleges and may offer both high school and college credit.  
  • If possible, joint CTE and English language instruction can be effective in maximizing learning time and more swiftly helping ELL students receive valuable job skills and become proficient in English.
  • A part time job during high school can provide valuable lessons in workplace expectations and can assist newcomer students in learning and using English.       
  • Military service: In addition to other career options, students may consider joining the military. Young adults with a green card can join the military. In addition, people with other legal status, such as temporary protected status (TPS), may also be able to join the military if they meet certain requirements, such as fluency in specific languages. See https://www.usa.gov/join-military for additional information. 
Promising Practice: Bethany Christian Services (BCS), in Grand Rapids, MI, created an innovative job training program for refugee youth in their foster care program. They partnered with a local hospital which was seeking to hire more patient transporters and diversify its staff. These staff members move patients within the hospital and require special certification to do the job. BCS refugee clients who met certain criteria (18 or older, high school diploma or GED, and able to speak English well enough to communicate with patients) could apply to be in the program. Clients were supported by BCS staff to create a resume and participate in an interview with BCS and the hospital. Successful applicants entered a 2 ½ month certification program; the training included classroom-based learning, as well as an internship at the hospital which helped participants gain familiarity with U.S. workplace norms and expectations. The classroom training was provided by a BCS staff member, which allowed for specialized attention to things like linguistic challenges (e.g. non-native speakers needing extra help learning medical terminology). Upon completion of the training, participants were offered a patient transport job at the hospital.
Undocumented Students
There is no federal law prohibiting undocumented students from attending college in the U.S. However, they may face additional challenges, such as paying for college.
  • Federal financial aid, including loans and federal work-study programs, is not available to undocumented students.
  • Some states allow undocumented students to pay in state tuition at state schools.  
  • Some states and individual colleges offer financial assistance for undocumented students. See the highlighted resource list below for additional information
For more information, including resources on financial aid, check out BRYCS Highlighted Resource List: http://www.brycs.org/clearinghouse/highlighted-resources-post-high-school-college-and-career-readiness.cfm

This month's guest blogger: Margaret MacDonnell, BRYCS Consultant