Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Best Practices on Informing Newcomers about a Sex Offender in their Community


Have you/your staff ever had to educate refugee families about the possibility of a convicted sex offender living in their community or even in the same building where they live? If so, how did you handle it?
Thank you. -Anonymous

REFUGEE 101: With a Special Look at Child-Specific Issues

©istockphoto.com/Yuri Arcurs
According to UNHCR, over half of the world’s refugees are children. Unaccompanied and separated children are some of the most vulnerable refugees and receive special attention from UNHCR. One important tool in protecting children is the Best Interest Determinations (BID).

Over the past several years, as the Syrian crisis has unfolded, we’ve seen hundreds of thousands of people flee their country. This exodus of people has left many with questions and led to some misunderstandings about refugee resettlement. The formal process of refugee resettlement is quite different from the recent chaotic flows of people into European countries. This blog attempts to explain a bit about refugees and how they come to the U.S.

What is a refugee?

The most common definition of a refugee, and the one used by the United States government, is a person who is outside of his or her country of origin and can’t return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a
particular social group, and/or political opinion. UNHCR (the U.N. refugee agency) estimates that there are close to 20 million refugees around the world. Many live in refugee camps, but there are also large numbers of refugees—possibly half or more—living in cities and towns in the countries to which they’ve fled.

Refugees may have survived war, violence, dangerous journeys and the loss of family and friends. Most are families with children, and all are seeking safety. Many will never return to their country of origin.

Refugee resettlement

Only a very small number of refugees—less than 1%—are ever resettled. The process they undergo is lengthy and complex. Below is a brief summary of the most common route to resettlement.
  • A refugee registers with UNHCR, which collects biographical information then determines that the person meets the definition of a refugee.
  • UNHCR identifies individuals and families to be considered for resettlement. These are generally the most vulnerable populations: people with emergency or urgent safety or health concerns, survivors of torture or violence, children at risk, and others.
    ©iStockphoto.com/Susan Chiang
    • These individuals are assessed to determine their need for resettlement 
    • Interviews are conducted with the refugees and possibly with others to verify their identity and background; this information is used to prepare resettlement submission documents.
  • UNHCR refers the refugee to a resettlement country. 
  • When the U.S. receives a resettlement referral from UNHCR, a number of security screenings are conducted. 
    • Security screening is carried out by the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, and the State Department, among others. 
    • Screening includes checking fingerprints and other biometric data against terrorist and criminal databases. 
    • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reviews the application and interviews the refugee in person. If additional questions arise during any of the security screenings, the refugee may be interviewed again. 
    • Refugees undergo a health screening to ensure they do not have a contagious illness
  • After USCIS approves a person for resettlement, the U.S. Department of State refers the refugee’s case to one of 9 voluntary resettlement agencies in the U.S.
  • The voluntary agency determines the resettlement location within the U.S. If the refugee has family members he or she is joining in the U.S. that may decide which voluntary agency receives the case and the resettlement location within the U.S. 
  • Before departure for the U.S., most refugees receive a brief cultural orientation.
    ©istockphoto.com/Henrique NDR Martins
  • Upon arrival, the refugee will receive support from the voluntary agency. These services, funded by the Department of State, last for up to 3 months and include: 
    • assistance applying for a social security card 
    • help registering children in school 
    • orientation to their new community, such as how to use local transportation and where to find local grocery stores 
    • connecting refugees with medical and social services, if necessary  
  •  The Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, works with states and local agencies to provide additional, longer-term services, such as employment assistance.
  • The average time from initial referral by UNHCR to arrival in the U.S. is 18 to 24 months.

Child-specific issues

©istockphoto.com/Joel Carillet
If UNHCR is identifying durable solutions for any unaccompanied or separated refugee child in their care, that child is required to receive a Best Interest Determination (BID).

This process involves someone with child welfare experience interviewing the child and, often, others connected to the child, to assess the child’s needs, consider the child’s overall well being, and make a recommendation regarding the most appropriate durable solution. Usually, a panel made up of people with professional experience in social work or child protection then makes a decision regarding what action is in the child’s best interest. BIDs may also be conducted in other circumstances, such as when making temporary care arrangements for a child.

If the child is referred for resettlement, the BID is generally included in the information provided to the resettlement country and, in the U.S., to the voluntary agency resettling the child.

We want to hear from you! 
What questions do you most commonly get in your work place or community about refugees and resettlement? Do you feel well poised to answer these questions and advocate for newcomers?

Stay tuned for a more in-depth peer exchange and online learning module on this topic!

Additional resources:

BRYCS http://www.brycs.org/aboutRefugees/refugee101.cfm

U.S. Department of State
Fact Sheet on Refugee Resettlement in the U.S. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/01/251176.htm Includes information on the regions refugees are resettled from and which states they’re resettled to.

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration http://www.state.gov/j/prm/
Provides information on the U.S. resettlement program as well as overseas assistance.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr
Information on programs that ORR funds to support refugees after arrival in the U.S.

Refugee Council USA
Basic information on refugees and resettlement to the U.S.

Information on UNHCR’s work with children.

Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Detailed information on security screening in the resettlement process

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lessons Learned: School Orientation for Refugee Parents

Including more on U.S. Schools in General Orientation sessions 
  • Through the Department of State’s Reception and Placement Program, adult refugee arrivals are provided basic orientation sessions during the first 3 months after arrival.  These sessions take place in group or one-on-one settings.  Regular cultural orientation sessions include an introduction to the U.S. school system, school enrollment process, report cards, attendance/excuse notes, importance of learning English, discipline at home and in school, abuse/neglect of children, and safety in the community, among other general resettlement topics.
  • This is the chance for the school liaison (if available) to be introduced, his/her role explained and contact information provided to the parent.  This way even if arrivals don't have school age children upon arrival, they will know who to contact at the local office. 
  • If you work in public schools and see ways orientation for parents could be stronger, contact your local resettlement agency to find out how you can collaborate.
Catholic Charities of Onondaga County (Syracuse, NY)

  • The School Liaison has an on-going relationship with the parents and children.  She interfaces with the school district, introduces the students to their new school upon enrollment and works with families around parent conferences and school activities.
    Refugee Youth and parents enjoy a farm!
    Photo credit: Northside Catholic Youth Organization
  • Catholic Charities holds a month-long new student academy for all students who arrived the previous month.  The academy, which meets 4 days week for 2 ½ hours/session, provides an overview of what school will be like and basic education from raising your hand and school supplies to what makes a good friend.
  • At the end of the academy, students receive a backpack filled with school supplies and new shoes.  The academy is staffed by a Jesuit Volunteer with assistance from community volunteers and funded by the Youth Bureau, United Way and private funders.

Catholic Charities of Arlington’s Virginia Refugee Student Achievement Project (VRSAP)
  • This program funded by the State of Virginia, provides refugee families both initial and ongoing services for 5 years after arrival.  The services include the initial orientation, assistance with health department follow-up and school registration, links to tutoring, invitation to special events, and connecting families to necessary stabilization resources to ensure full integration into local schools and community. 
  • Soon after arrival, a School Liaison meets with each family individually to explain the program and assess the parents and students’ individual needs.  This meeting results in an academic action plan. 

Caritas of Austin, Texas
  • The General Orientation ‘U.S. Education System’ session is taught by Austin Independent School District (AISD)’s Refugee Parent Liaison. This session familiarizes refugee parents with the U.S. education system (registration, attendance, school policies, reports cards, school supplies, transportation, meals, homework and available tutoring services) and their rights and responsibilities regarding their children’s education.  The ‘Parenting in the U.S.’ session is taught by a Child Protective Services representative who provides parents an initial understanding of expectations of parents in the United States, healthy relationships, child discipline and what are considered appropriate forms of discipline. 

    Caritas volunteer poses after homework help!
    Photo Credit: Caritas of Austin
  • Caritas recently started offering Cultural Orientation to refugee school-aged children, partnering with AISD and Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) for this training.  AISD’s Refugee Family Liaison covers grade placement, tardy/attendance, excused absences, Food Service Program, uniforms, report cards, parent-teacher conferences, confidentiality, complaints and the public school bus system. The YWCA covers Substance abuse and peer pressure. 
  • Caritas also has a Direct Service Volunteer (DSV) Program where volunteers are trained and paired with some refugee families to help reinforce the knowledge acquired in classes and assure a continued support for the first few months. Volunteers help newcomer parents understand the papers sent home from school, assist with homework and a lot more. 
Tips for Service Providers or School Liaisons Preparing Parents for the U.S. School System

  • Even though these parents’ English language skills may not be as strong as other parents, their involvement and interest in their child’s education is just as important!
  • Provide the newly arrived refugee parents a thorough orientation on what the school system looks like in the U.S., focusing on the main points they need to know immediately.  Follow up to reinforce cultural orientation themes. 
  • Be responsive to the parent through visits, phone calls or coordinating interpretation for parent/teacher conferences, so you create an environment that they can come to you any time they have a question about what their child(ren) are going through. 
  • Make an effort to form an ongoing relationship with the family so that when issues arise, the family trusts you. Often times, youth specifically request the school liaison’s presence when going through an issue because trust has already been built.
  • Form relationships with district officials and English as New Language (ENL) teachers, as they are a tremendous support to both students, their families and you! Create a system with the school secretaries that works efficiently for both parties. Always inform the ENL teachers of new ENL students. The teachers love to meet the students and often can find student translators if needed.
  • Be patient with yourself and the parents! You are serving a very vulnerable population who has many struggles ahead, but has overcome many struggles in the past.
Additional Resources

  • Be sure to check out the schools section of BRYCS website for helpful briefs, webinars and online trainings, promising practices and highlighted resource lists on a variety of school related topics!
  • BRYCS School's Toolkit Refugee Children in U.S. Schools: A Toolkit for Teachers and  School  Personnel includes tools on grade placement, strengthening collaboration between schools and refugee-serving agencies, child welfare guidance, bullying, and federal interpretation/translation guidelines.
This month's guest blogger: Marisa Rogers, Cultural Orientation Coordinator, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS)