Monday, December 4, 2017

Managing Trauma: Tips for Supporting Refugee Teens in Schools, Refugee Resettlement, & Other Contexts

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

This webinar builds off of BRYCS previous webinar on Understanding Trauma in Refugee Youth. Hugo Kamya, PhD, Professor and Fulbright Specialist Roster Scholar at the Simmons College School of Social and Lisa Fontes, PhD, Senior Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts encourage you to reflect on your work and relationships with refugee teens. Participants will learn about some of the dilemmas facing refugee teenagers, how to converse helpfully and meaningfully with refugee teens, as well as ways to intervene more effectively with refugee teens, their families, and schools.

Additional resources:

Blanco-Vega, C.O., Castro-Olivio, S.M., & Merrel, K.W., (2008). Sociocultural model for development and implementation of culturally specific interventions. Journal of Latinos and Education, 7(1),43-61.
Boyson, B… & Short, D. (2012). Helping newcomer students achieve success in secondary schools and beyond. Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics.
BRYCS. (2017). Collective Voices for Improving the Care & Reducing the Risk of Female Genital Cutting (FGC).
BRYCS. (2010). Child Abuse Issues with Refugee Populations (PART I)- Recognizing Suspected Child Maltreatment in Culturally Diverse Refugee Families
BRYCS. (2010). Child Abuse Issues with Refugee Populations (PART II)- Refugee Resettlement and Child Welfare: Working Together for Child Protection
Chapman, C., Laird, J., Hill, N., & Ramani, A.K. (2011). Trends in High School Dropout ad Completion Rates in the United States: 1979-2009.  Washington, DC: US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.
Fontes, L.A. (2005). Child Abuse and Culture: Working with Diverse Families. New York, NY: Guilford.
Fontes, L.A. (2008). Interviewing Clients Across Cultures. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Fontes, L.A. (2008). Interviewing Clients across Cultures: A Practitioner’s Guide. New York, NY: Guilford.
Fontes, L.A. (2010). Interviewing immigrant children for suspected child maltreatment. Journal of Psychiatry and the Law, 38, 283-305. 
Fontes, L.A. (2015). Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship. New York, NY: Guilford.
Fontes, L.A. (2017). Building Resilience After Trauma: Lessons from Chile. New York, NY: Psychology Today.
Fontes, L.A. (2017). Helping Refugee Children Cope. New York, NY: Psychology Today.
Fontes, L.A. (2017). Keeping Refugee Children and Teens Safe. New York, NY: Psychology Today.
Fontes, L.A. (2017). Translating Trauma: Foreign Language Interpreting in Therapy. New York, NY: Psychology Today.
Jensen, L. (2005). The demographic diversity of immigrants and their children. In R.G. Rumbaut & A. Portes (Eds.) Ethnicities: Children of immigrants in America ((pp. 21-56). Berkley, CA: University of California Press.
Kamya, H. (2008). Healing from Refugee Trauma: The Significance of Spiritual Beliefs, Faith Community, and Faith-based Services. In  Froma Walsh (Ed.). Spiritual resources in family therapy (286-300).  2rd edition.  New York: Guilford Press. 
Kamya, H. (2009). The impact of war on children: How children make meaning from war     experiences. Journal of Immigrant and refugee Studies, 7, 2, 211-216
Kamya, H. (2011). The impact of war on children:  The psychology of displacement and exile.  In Kelle, B. (Ed.). Interpreting Exile: Interdisciplinary studies of displacement and deportation in Biblical and modern contexts. (pp.235-249). Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press.
Kamya, H.  & Mirkin, M.(2008). Working with immigrant and refugee families. In Monica   McGoldrick and Kenneth Hardy (Eds.). Revisioning Family Therapy: Race, culture and gender in clinical practice. 2nd edition. (pp. 311-326). New York: Guilford Press.(a  revised chapter is coming out 2018 in 3rd edition)
Kamya, H. & White, E. (2011).  Expanding cross-cultural understanding of suicide among immigrants: The case of the Somali.  Families in Society, 92(4), 419-425.
Kamya, H. (2012). The cultural universality of narrative techniques  in the creation of meaning.  In B. MacKin, Newman, E., Fogler, J., & Keane, T. (Eds.) Trauma therapy in context:  The science and craft of evidence based practice. (pp.231-246). Washington, D.C: American Psychological Association.
McBrien, J.L. (2005). Educational needs and barriers for refugee students in the United States: A review of the literature.  Review of Educational Research, 75(3), 329-364.
Muslim Youth Girls Association. (2010). Top 5: Gym Class Hijabi Tips.
National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). Types of Trauma.
Mendenhall, M., Bartlett, L., & Ghaffar-Kucher, A. (2017). ‘If you need help, they are always there for us.”: Education for refugees in an International High School in NYC.  Urban Review, 49, 1-25.
Paat, Y. (2013). Working with immigrant children and their families: An application of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 23, 954-966.
Paat, Y. (2013). Understanding the role of immigrant families’ cultural and structural mechanisms in immigrant children’s experiences beyond high school: Lessons for social work practitioners. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 23, 514-528.
Presidential Task Force on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma in Children and Adolescents. (2008). Children and Trauma: Update for Mental Health Professionals. Washington, D.C: American Psychological Association.  
Schneider, S. & Kamya, H. (in press). Community-Based Services for Refugees and Immigrants: Utilizing Social Capital, Human Capital and Cultural Capital to Improve Family Functioning and Well-Being Among the Somali, Families in Society.
Tseng, V. (2006). Unpacking immigration in youths’ academic and occupational pathways. Child Development, 77(5), 1434-1445.
Watkinson, J.S. & Hersi, A.A. (2013). School counselors supporting African immigrant students’ career development: A case study. The Career Development Quarterly, 62, 44-55.
Yohani, S. (2010) Nurturing hope in refugee children during early years of post-war adjustment. Children and Youth Services Review, 32, 865-873.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Understanding Trauma in Refugee Youth: Pre-flight, Flight, & Post-flight

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

Refugee youth often face multiple traumatic experiences due to forced migration throughout their resettlement journey. With the aim of better understanding refugee trauma and mental health, this presentation offered a foundational knowledge of relevant theories; case vignettes illustrating refugee youth in the community, family, and school; and school-specific considerations.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Practice of Female Genital Cutting

Female genital cutting (FGC) has many names around the world. It is known as female genital mutilation (FGM), female circumcision, sunna, khatna, excision, and many others. Regardless of what name you use for the practice, FGC is a human rights violation and a form of gender based violence. This practice is global in scope and cuts across class, race, ethnicity, country, education level, and religion. Worldwide more than 200 million women and girls have been affected by FGC.

The World Health Organization defines FGC as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. There are four main types of FGC[1]:

·         Type 1: Often referred to as clitoridectomy; this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris or in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).

·         Type 2: Often referred to as excision; this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora

·         Type 3: Often referred to as infibulation; this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).

·         Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
FGC is performed for a variety of reasons across the world. The practice dates back centuries in some countries and communities. Some cultures and communities perform the procedure to mark a girl’s passage into womanhood and full membership in her community as an adult. Others do it to ensure a daughter’s marriageability, as FGC can be a physical indication and proof of her virginity because Type 3 prevents intercourse without physical preparation. Other communities perform it because they believe it is prescribed by their religion. There are cultures who do it to decrease a girl’s sexual desires and preserve family honor by ensuring their daughter is not being promiscuous. Within individual families, the decision may be based on their community’s beliefs, or they will have the procedure done to their daughters because of extreme pressure from family or friends: they could be ostracized if they do not continue the practice.
There are numerous emotional and physical consequences of the practice. Some immediate and short term impacts could be: severe pain; excessive bleeding; infections; urinary problems; shock; and death. In the long term, consequences can include: infertility; obstructed miscarriage and complications during childbirth; obstructed menstrual and urinary flow; fistulas; and pain and decreased satisfaction during intercourse.
FGC affects almost every country in the world, including the U.S. In 1996, FGC became a crime under federal law (18 U.S. Code § 116) and punishable by up to five years in prison. In 2013, there was an amendment made to the law making it illegal to transport a girl overseas with the intent to perform the procedure, which is commonly known as ‘vacation cutting’. Additionally, there are currently 26 states with their own legislation prohibiting the practice. In late 2015, the U.S. government decided to help combat FGC further and released funding through the Office of Women’s Health for organizations to address the issue in a variety ways and among different communities.

BRYCS, through USCCB/MRS, applied and was granted funding to work on this issue on a national scale, and with an emphasis on refugee communities who have traditionally practiced the procedure. This project, Community Conversations: Collective Voices for Improving the Care and Reducing the Risk of FGC, aims to decrease the likelihood that currently impacted refugee communities will continue this practice and improve the practical response of service providers who may encounter a girl or woman who has undergone FGC or is at risk, such as health and medical practitioners, educators, child and family services, and those working directly in refugee resettlement.
To achieve these goals, BRYCS is partnering with local Catholic Charities resettlement agencies to consult with the impacted communities to better understand the scope of the practice and engage the refugee community in crafting and promoting the messaging and resources designed throughout the project. Additionally, BRYCS will develop interactive educational resources on FGC, for refugee, stakeholder and practitioner audiences, including a dual-generation handbook for mothers and daughters to talk about this subject.
BRYCS believes there are positive alternatives to this practice that communities can use to achieve their desired outcomes for their daughters’ lives and will use this project to promote and encourage these alternatives. BRYCS also believes that women and girls who have undergone the procedure deserve competent, sensitive care throughout their life course.
Stay tuned for a supplemental blog from a resettlement agency who is participating in the Community Conversations project!

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

IT'S HERE! Raising Teens in a New Country Handbook!

Raising Teens in a New Country: A Guide for the Whole Family, was created for parents and teens who are new to the U.S., and for the service providers working with them. 
The teen years are a time when children learn important lessons and skills that will help them as they develop into adults. This is also a time when parents' and teens' relationships can change. This can be exciting 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 guide covers topics that often come up in families raising teenagers in the United States and reminds newcomers that every parent worries for their children and most teens face these challenges.

Topics are divided into sections with separate information for parents and for teens, they include: 
  • Cultural Identity
  • Discipline
  • Friends
  • Discrimination & Bullying
  • Self-Esteem & Body Image
  • Dating & Relationships
  • School Engagement
  • Community Engagement
  • Online & Cyber Safety
  • Drugs, Alcohol & Smoking
  • Driving
  • Higher Education
  • Adult Living Skills
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.
At this time, the guide is only available online, but we hope to have hard copies available for order soon. Also, stay tuned for new translations and an adapted interactive online learning module!
This booklet is the 3rd in a series:

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 experiencing 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 therapist: 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 momentarily 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 natural 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. Outwardly, I enter with a smile. Then, depending on the client, the smile can lead to a chuckle assisted 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 isolated 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 together, our empathy can spotlight the genuineness of the interaction. We can facilitate the process 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 situations 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, confusion, 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.