Monday, September 25, 2017

Individualized Service Plans


Do you have any assistance for RSIG-implementing agencies that need to create an Individualized Service Plan for its clients? We were asked to create one and I didn't want to make one from scratch if you've seen a well-developed one.

Thank you!

Refugee Youth Project
Baltimore City Community College

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Journey to Resettlement: Refugee Experiences in Countries of Asylum

As follow-up from today's webinar, please feel free to continue the discussion below!

If you encounter refugee families and children in your community, you may wonder what their lives were like just prior to arriving in the United States. What is it like to go to school in a refugee camp? How do urban refugees find work or medical care? What does the typical daily routine look like? Refugee resettlement is often a long process, and is a unique experience of hardship, triumph and hope. Learn about these experiences from two former refugees, Paw Ku from Burma and Suhad Khudhair from Iraq, as they give us a glimpse into their stories of migration. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Coming Soon! Raising Teens in a New Country Handbook!

The teen years are a time when children learn important lessons and skills that will help them as they develop into adults. This can be exiting and scary for both parents and teens. It can be especially challenging for families who are also adjusting to being in a new country.

This book will cover topics that often come up in families raising teenagers in the U.S.
  • Belonging/Identity 
  • Discipline 
  • Friends 
  • Bullying 
  • Self-Esteem 
  • Dating 
  • School Engagement 
  • Community/Social Engagement 
  • Online Safety 
  • Drugs/Alcohol 
  • Driving 
  • Higher Education 
  • Adult Living Skills

Created for parents and teens who are new to the U.S., and for service providers working with newcomer families, the topics will be divided into sections with separate information for parents and for teens. We hope parents and their teens will read the book together and then talk about the topics and issues—sharing their opinions and asking each other questions.

If your family has struggled with these issues, you are not alone. Every parent worries for their children and most teens face these issues!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Laughter and Trauma

For ten years, I served refugees at administrative and policy levels. I missed working with clients, but I feared vicarious traumatization (being negatively impacted from the heavy weight of expe-riencing traumatic stories). A year after I returned to counseling clients, I wondered how that hadn’t yet happened to me. I also realized that I do something that I rarely did before as a thera-pist: I laugh with my clients about their trauma. I became curious of the role that laughter played in healing.

In serving refugees, we are privileged to witness parts of the healing journey resulting from crimes against humanity. Of course we are impacted by the stories we hear. As the Harvard Pro-gram in Refugee Trauma emphasizes, as the healer, you are also the student. You aim to learn from your client. Within this framework of a more equalized relationship, we are permitted to be human. Being human allows us to laugh (and in the rare event, cry) with our clients as we both face their trauma. I realized my shift from the humanitarian refugee field helped me develop a new coping skill as a clinician. I discovered how laughter could help me handle the stress of working with trauma. And it seems to work for my clients too.

Laughter is the Best Medicine
A proverb from the Old Testament says,
“A cheerful heart is a good medicine; But a broken spirit drieth up the bones.” -Proverb 17:22 (ASV)
This proverb, like the common saying, “If we don’t laugh, we have to cry!”, reinforces that laughing is an important coping skill. Laughing with our clients can be a simple tool to relieve trauma induced tension, and highlight a way to tolerate and manage life’s difficulties. Here is a framework for the process of my work: something traumatic is shared, laughter is allowed in the room, then tension is released from both the client, and me, the helper. We become human together.

Anxiety and Laughter: Counteracting the Stress Toxins
We know that horror and trauma can have an intense impact on the body. The impact in the body is anxiety. Anxiety is not a feeling. Anxiety is tension and it releases stress toxins. Anxiety can complicate lives in various forms and impacts our clients, colleagues, and ourselves. Unmanaged anxiety can have a significant negative impact on health, both in the short and long-term.

Let’s picture how laughter works. Instantaneously, air is exhaled, followed by a large intake of oxygen. This exchange occurs regardless of the type of release made: a smile, chuckle, or a loud burst of sound. This release can be mutually observed by you and the client. With this momen-tarily release and decrease in tension, it can be safer to go deeper, or just take a break from the impact of the trauma on your bodies. Furthermore, laughter releases endorphins, the body’s natu-ral pain reliever, similarly to those chemicals released with exercise and physical touch.

Laughter through Empathy
Empathy is a significant part of my approach with clients. I am usually able to laugh after I've empathized with the client—I find myself in their shoes and suddenly notice the absurdity of the event they may be describing. I also can sense their innocence in the past, and even in the present moment while they are telling me their story. I enter their experience through that route. Out-wardly, I enter with a smile. Then, depending on the client, the smile can lead to a chuckle as-sisted smile or lots of laughing together.

While helpful, deep empathy can connect us at a place where we are both vulnerable. Therefore, it is important to monitor your own physiological reactions. A sigh, a deep breath, a smile, a chuckle, are all signs of an empathic process that has caused enough anxiety within your body to require a release of tension. When we are hearing traumatic stories, if we can monitor the anxiety that rises with tension, or leads to numbness in our own bodies, we can help regulate ourselves and help the client to do the same.

Laugh and Connect
Empathy allows us to live in the moment and connect with our client. Laughter is often a social activity that happens with family and friends. However, in the life of our client, they may be iso-lated or living with others who are similarly depressed and stressed. Sometimes, a survivor of significant trauma may try to hide their worst stories, afraid that you may be repulsed—both about their story and them. Consequently, if we release the tension and fear through laughing to-gether, our empathy can spotlight the genuineness of the interaction. We can facilitate the pro-cess of joining and releasing tension together. Through empathy, our two hearts can connect with our laugh, building trust in the helping relationship.

Yes, there are times that I laughed, or wanted to laugh, that were not appropriate. In those situa-tions I apologized, which in its own way created another connection and allowed us to go deeper. I try to time my prompting for releasing tension without distracting from our discussion. Some-times, I ask for permission, “Do you want to hear something funny, that is (…absurd, awkward, strange, etc.) about this situation?” Other times I say, “This was really hard, do you want to laugh with me (and release tension)?

Torture, war, rape…the world’s traumas can destroy happiness—and lead to deep sorrow, confu-sion, and fear. Laughter can give power back to the client. It can allow them to say to their trauma, to their violators: ‘You don’t get to oppress me, you don’t get to destroy my psyche; I am still alive, I can still laugh…’

Human beings are resilient—and they can always smile and laugh again. That is my goal—to re-mind them of that, and to do it together.

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

Child Supervision


We've been getting reports of child supervision issues from a few landlords in our area. I'm looking for tools/best practices in explaining U.S. norms/rules for child supervision to our refugee clients. Do you know of any?

Thanks- Allison, Kansas City, MO

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Curriculum on the Refugee Experience

Hi there-

In preparation for the 2017-18 school year, I'm looking for materials/tools to help teach my students about immigrants and refugees. Does anyone have anything they've personally used and found to be really effective? Specifically, elementary students, but I'd be interested in any K-12 materials!

Thank you! Matt Vermicki, Charlotte, NC

Guardianship of U.S.-born Children

BRYCS is funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to provide tehcnical assistance to refugee families and the organizations that serve them. That said, we frequently receive technical assistance requests from individuals trying to obtain guardianship for U.S.-born children. While we are unable to provide in-depth assistance on these requests or legal advice, the following information may point you in the right direction.
  • If you are seeking guardianship of a U.S.-born child, please refer to BRYCS searchable directory which provides state-by-state information on guardianship in the U.S. You will most likely need to contact a lawyer within your state who can help you navigate the required court forms.
  • You may also want to contact The Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center, which serves as a national legal resource in support of grandfamilies within and outside the child welfare system. 
If you are seeking guardianship of a refugee child, please email for more information.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

School Transcripts


I'm looking for advice on evaluating high school transcripts, specifically from Rwanda and the DRC. Does any one know of any guides?

-Dallas School Teacher

Translation & Interpretation Resources

BRYCS often receives requests for translation and interpretation services of lesser known langauges, such as indigenous Maya languages. While we do not directly provide these services, we have compiled a list of organizations that we have used in the past. We hope you find this useful in your day to day work!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

School Enrollment FAQ

For migrant families, one of the greatest challenges in the U.S. can be enrolling children in school. Families may have trouble gathering the requested documentation, may be discouraged from enrolling due to language barriers or their child’s age, or may be denied enrollment if the primary caregiver is not the child’s parent or legal guardian.

It is important for all parties in the enrollment process to remember that:
  • School districts cannot ask about an individual’s immigration status, as it is unnecessary for establishing residency in a school district; rather, the school can require families to submit other documentation such as utility bills, lease agreements, or an affidavit;
  • School districts may not bar a student from enrolling simply because the individual lacks a birth certificate;
  • Providing a social security number is voluntary; and
  • In some cases, migrant children may be living with caregivers other than their parents or legal guardians. 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 the child and caregiver. Furthermore, some parents or legal guardians may have also executed a Power of Attorney giving these alternate caregivers specific and limited parental rights, which may facilitate the enrollment process.
For more information, please visit:

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!