Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dating and Relationships

Dating and relationships is often a challenging topic to discuss with newcomers and can be a source of conflict in an immigrant family. Even something like high school dances/prom, that seem innocent, can be a very foreign concept for immigrant parents and a source of frustration for immigrant teens as they try to fit in. Does anyone have any simple resources they share with their newcomer parents AND/OR teens about dating and relationships in the U.S.? Thank you!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Translation tools for children

Hello, Recently, my child's elementary school enrolled Afghan and Syrian refugee students. The school is used to Spanish speakers but has not had to handle Arabic translations before this. To help the older students during classes, the school has given them tablets and they are using Google Translate. But there are younger students (6 and 8 year olds) that cannot use this type of simultaneous translation because it is too difficult for them to type that much or that fast. Does anyone know of a translation tool for younger kids to use in the classroom that is similar to Google Translate? Thank you!

-Concerned Parent

Friday, September 2, 2016

Creating Compassionate Schools: Supporting Unaccompanied Children

©iStockphoto.com/Luis Alvarez

What is it like for an unaccompanied, undocumented child to be apprehended at the border, reunified and transitioned into the public education system?

Thus far in fiscal year 2016 alone, 43,309 Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs) have been apprehended coming into the United States. The U.S government defines a UAC as a child who lacks immigration status, is under the age of 18, and who is present without a parent or legal guardian at the time of apprehension. Once apprehended by immigration officials or border patrol, children are placed in the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services; Office of Refugee Resettlement, Division of Children Services (ORR/DCS) until they are cleared to be released.

Reasons for Migration: Children migrate to the United States for many reasons including fleeing
community and gang violence and lack of educational and economic opportunities. Many cities in Central America have corrupt government, and run by local gangs (ex. MS 13, Mara 18). These gangs charge the local community and business a fee for their protection; which they have no option. and seeking family reunification. Many of these children’s parents left them in the care of grandparents and relatives so that they could migrate to the United States to be able to find employment and send remittances back home to support their children, in hopes to one day be able to send for their children to be reunited once again. For many of these children there have been a pro long separation of at times over 5-10 years since they last psychical seen their parents and or guardians. Now their caretakers are elderly and unable to care for them any longer requesting that the parents send for them.

Trauma: Can you image a child/youth traveling by foot, on top of a freight train from one country to another? That is the method of transportation that many of these children endure to flee situations of violence and insecurity and seek safety and family reunification in the United States. The journey can be traumatizing for anyone, not to mention a child. During the migration journey, many UAC often experience or witness horrendous acts of crime and violence include murder, rape, kidnapping, and extortion. Many children have to stay in the ORR facility for a prolonged period of time. Many of the children have prior mental health issues from prior history of trauma, abuse or neglect. Apprehension by immigration authorities and placement in an unfamiliar place can often further exacerbate trauma symptoms.

Post Release Services: Once these children are reunified if they are deemed to be eligible for post release services these are the services they are assisted with:
Photo courtesy of www.startingoverutica.com
  • School Enrollment
  • Pro-bono immigration legal services
  • Low-cost medical care
  • Access to mental health/counseling services
  • Assistance navigating community resources
  • Filing COA/COV
  • Post 18 Planning
  • Independent Living Skills 
Tips for Schools: 

  • Support students who have experienced adversity or live in crisis.
  • Provide an ongoing training, and professional development for ALL school staff with regards to this population and how to best meet their needs in the classroom. 
  • Provide a safe haven, and resources for students to be able to move from trauma to resilience. 
  • Find ways to partner with community and families to bring awareness and resources for this population. 
  • Promote awareness and introduce strategies that promote student/staff wellness. 
For more school related resources, visit: http://brycs.org/publications/index.cfm#schools

Monday, August 29, 2016

Enrolling Refugee Children in U.S. Schools

“He doesn’t have a birth certificate.”
“You have only lived in the U.S. for a couple of months.”
“She is not the child’s legal guardian.”
“They don’t have any previous educational documents.”

For migrant families and children, one of the greatest challenges in the U.S. can be enrolling children into the local public school system. They may have trouble gathering the requested documentation, may be discouraged from enrolling due to language barriers or their age, or may be denied enrollment if their caregiver is not a parent or legal guardian. Fortunately, there are some protections for migrant children attempting to enroll in school.

All children are entitled to enroll in public schools regardless of their national origin, citizenship, or immigration status. A Dear Colleague Letter from the US Department of Education regarding school enrollment (May 8, 2014) lays out the following:
Courtesy of Catholic Charities of Tennessee

  • School districts cannot ask a student or family about their immigration status, as it is unnecessary to establish residency in a school district.
  • School districts may require proof of residency in the district, such as utility bills, lease agreements, or an affidavit, but cannot require documents that would unlawfully bar or discourage an undocumented student or a student with undocumented parents. 
  • School districts may not bar a student from enrolling if they lack a birth certificate.
  • Providing a social security number is voluntary.
  • Homeless children do not have to provide proof of residency; school districts must immediately enroll the child even if she or he doesn’t have the documents usually required.
In some cases, migrant children may be living with caregivers other than their parents. Seventeen states have consent laws which allow relative caregivers to enroll children in school. Other states do not have these laws but allow enrollment by caregivers. However, some school districts may ask for proof of guardianship or legal custody, which can have the effect of blocking a child from enrolling in school. In these situations, caregivers may work with schools to determine whether the school would accept an affidavit or other assurance of the relationship between child and caregiver. For children released from federal immigration custody, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Division of Children’s Services (ORR/DCS) provides a Verification of Release form which includes language from the U.S. Department of Education regarding the child’s right to enroll in a public school. In some locations, the Verification of Release and ORR/DCS’s Sponsor Care Agreement may be acceptable substitutes for formal guardianship paperwork. Children and their caregivers can also be referred to their country’s nearest consular office to request assistance in obtaining documentation from their country of origin to validate identity or relationship.


In some instances, older children face an additional hurdle. Some school districts may refuse to enroll older teens or push them to adult education or GED programs. Often school districts, and sometimes even caregivers or the youth themselves, may believe that older children with limited English or prior schooling may not be able to catch up. These youths can receive, however, academic as well as non-academic benefits from being enrolled in full-time schooling: more structured and supervised hours in the classroom, tutoring help, free or reduced lunch, socialization with peers, mentoring, etc. State laws vary regarding the ages of children guaranteed schooling. The Education Commission of the States provides a state by state breakdown on age requirements as outlined in state codes. Older teens may benefit from being connected with advocates to overcome some of the barriers to school enrollment for those who are eligible based on age.

For students who arrive with incomplete or missing transcripts, policies vary greatly among states and even school districts with respect to awarding credits. Some school districts have developed forms to help “rebuild” the transcripts of foreign-born students who come without transcripts, while others will not award credits based on a student’s report of previous classes. It is best for individuals to consult with their state Department of Education if their school district does not have a policy already in place.

Below are two useful legal tools when assisting migrant families to enroll their child(ren) into a public school.

Plyler v. Doe (1982)
BRYCS Photo, Claudia Gilmore
  • Holds that States may not deny access to a basic public education to any child residing in the State, whether they are present in the in US legally or otherwise. 
McKinney-Vento Act

Ensures educational rights and protections for children and youth experiencing homelessness, and applied to all school aged children and youth.
  • The term “homeless children and youth” is defined as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence….; and can include 
    • children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement; 
    • children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings…
    • children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
    • migratory children who qualify as homeless for because the children are living in circumstances described above
  • Defines an “unaccompanied youth” as a student who is not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.
  • Some migrant children, such as those released from federal custody to a relative, may qualify for recognition under this act if they are living "doubled up" with relatives or friends. These children may benefit from recognition of their rights under this act.
The McKinney-Vento Act states that those who have been identified as “homeless children and youth” have a right to the following:
  • Immediate enrollment, even if they don't have all of their paperwork - for example, medical/health records, proof of residency, former school records, immunization records, birth certificates, proof of guardianship. The student can be enrolled in school while these records are being obtained. 
  • If a student needs to obtain immunizations or medical records, a homeless liaison should assist the student with obtaining them, and while immunizations or records are being obtained, the student should be enrolled in school. 
  • Access to all of the school's programs and services on the same basis as all other students, including special education, school nutrition programs, extracurricular activities, etc. 
  1. While legal protections exist to ensure all children, regardless of immigration status, receive an education, often migrant children and their parent/guardian need someone advocating on their behalf to ensure they are able to enroll in their local public school.
  2. Contact the homeless liaison in your school district, if you are having trouble enrolling a child or youth who falls under the McKinney-Vento definition of a “homeless child or youth” or an “unaccompanied youth.” Every school district should have a homeless liaison who should be available to assist. 
  3. The McKinney-Vento law applies to all school-aged children and youth, and does not specify an age range; therefore, if a school allows all children between the ages of 5 and 21 the right to attend school, a child identified as a “homeless child or youth” or an “unaccompanied youth” have the right to attend school up until the age stated in the law. 
  4. Encourage and advocate for parents, guardians, and sponsors to request and have school meetings in their preferred language.

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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

To Speak or Not to Speak about Past Trauma: Shifting the Focus to the Present Impacts of Current Events and Assimilation on Immigrant Children

When should we talk with a child about their past experiences with war or mass violence? Why?

In my lifetime, I’ve experienced three wars with Iraq. From my earliest memories until we left Tehran when I was seven, I woke up to citywide alarms and bombings. We had to take cover in the basement of our tall apartment building or stayed uptown at my aunt’s home, where it was supposed to be safer. Later, in the United States in 1991, I watched the televised news reports and my peers’ reactions to the Gulf War. And then in 2003 after graduate school, it began again in the aftermath of September 11.

Unable to imagine war, whenever my American friends and fellow mental health specialists find out about my exposure to war, they quickly conclude it must have had some effect on me. I’m not sure whether I’m damaged or exotic. And I imagine their questioning and awe helps with their own need to process war. It really is amazing that we are all safe and free to live happily in a society that has not experienced war in its continental borders for over 150 years.

As a mental health professional, I know it is important to talk through scary memories. Talking about memories can be helpful in reducing their intensity or make meaning from scary events. But talking will not actually eliminate the memories. I still get nervous when I hear helicopters at night hovering overhead. I live near embassies where there is higher air traffic; yet I still have to tell myself they are not war planes.

But so what? Everyone has been or will be impacted by frightening or disturbing events at some point in their life. And talking about the memories doesn’t actually address the current real life struggles, stressors, or new potential dangers in this “safe” land.

What else should we be talking about? What about present dangers and reminders of the past?

At School
Interestingly, no one ever asked me about any difficulties growing up in the United States. No one knew, not even my parents, whenever I was harassed by my peers, and even worse, by teachers. Even years after the end of the Gulf War, peers told me to ‘Go back to Iraq!’ Once a high school World History teacher approached me from behind, grabbed my backpack, and asked while laughing “Is there a bomb in there?”

Furthermore, no one ever differentiated for me that all kids, whether an immigrant or not, struggle in school at some point. Some of the events that I experienced, such as teasing, American children could relate to. And my parents were also experiencing their own challenges related to acculturation while trying to fit in at work and integrate into the community. Always looking and being from somewhere different, a certain level of normalization would have been more comforting than a discussion of war that further set me apart from my peers.

In the News and Social Media
In elementary school, I watched my peers’ reactions to the Gulf War. While I was excited that my friends finally learned where Iraq and Iran are, I was further embarrassed with the new associations. Fortunately, I grew up in the United States at a time when the media communicated the news much differently. News was broadcast four times during the day, 24-hour news channels on cable didn’t exist, and there was no social media. It felt like a much safer time; maybe because we were protected from repetitive exposure to viewing toxic trauma stories (highly emotionally arousing stories with no resolution)1

BRYCS Photo / Courtesy of CSS Anchorage
Now in the age of digital communication, we are repetitively informed and alerted that we live in times of mass shootings, regular events of terrorism, and ongoing mass migration of people fleeing war and seeking refuge. Despite increased security, places all around the world that appeared safe before, could be attacked at any time. And up until last summer, cable news channels were still talking about a potential war with Iran. 

Exposure to videos and repetitive clips of violence on the news and social media can be disturbing for both children and their parents. Additionally, they may be learning about disturbing events still occurring in their home country and or countries of refuge. Immigrants can harbor guilt for having survived and left their families and friends behind.

It is important that parents and providers make opportunities to connect to children’s and youth’s experiences and struggles at school and in the community. Explore the presence of problems with other students, bullies, and teachers. Inquire from children and youth what they’ve seen on the news and social media. Ask them if it reminds them of anything. Ask about their fears. When parents monitor social media, in addition to monitoring for inappropriate content, warn them to look for any exposure to disturbing current events. Encourage parents to talk to their children and help them process acts of mass violence (war, terrorism, mass shootings). If you do chose to speak about past trauma, try to explore it in the context of the impact on the present.

Finally, we should honor an immigrant’s decision to not talk about the past. People shut down or they may need to forget a certain part of their lives—this is a valuable coping skill. Human beings are highly adaptable; only a tiny percent get and remain “traumatized”. And never forget that helping others with sad, scary or angry stories requires helpers to take care of themselves so they can continue to help others heal and flourish.

A webinar follows and will focus on learning and responding to a child’s current difficulties and impact of past trauma stories. We welcome your questions and comments below on interventions with immigrant children and parents on addressing impacts of current events and assimilation.

This month's guest blogger: Goli Amin Bellinger, MSW, LICSW, University of Maryland Baltimore, School of Social Work

1.  Mollica, Richard F. (2006). Healing invisible wounds: Paths to hope and recovery in a violent world. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt.