Abstract: Who is welcoming the stranger? Congregations and services to refugees in one urban locale (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

81P Who is welcoming the stranger? Congregations and services to refugees in one urban locale

Saturday, January 16, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Jill Witmer Sinha, PhD , Rutgers University, Asst. Professor, Camden, NJ
Nicole Ives, PhD , McGill University, Assistant Professor, Montreal, QC, Canada

Religious congregations are involved in providing services to refugees in the U.S. However, evaluations of refugee integration, at a national level, typically do not carry on past 180 days and little is known about the prevalence of sponsorship among congregations, nor whether certain types of congregations are more likely to report providing services or sponsorship to refugees. This study was undertaken to analyze one comprehensive data set regarding the prevalence and types of services which congregations provide to refugees in one locale; to describe characteristics of refugee-serving congregations; and contribute to the public policy discussion related to refugee resettlement and congregational participation. Three research questions were: (1) What is the prevalence of religious congregations working formally or informally with refugees in the Philadelphia area? (2) In what ways are religious congregations involved in refugee resettlement? (3) Are there common characteristics among religious congregations that support refugees?


Data from 1392 congregations surveyed in the Philadelphia Census of Congregations were analyzed to provide information of congregations involved in refugee resettlement and service provision. Although collected in 1999-2002, the Philadelphia Census of Congregations (PCC) is the first dataset of its kind to comprehensively capture data on religious congregations' formal involvement in resettlement or sponsorship. For this analysis, we selected cases in which a congregation indicated running a “program for refugees” or participation in “refugee resettlement” to varying degrees. Follow up calls were made to congregations that indicated that they had provided formal services to refugees to update information and ask additional questions, including whether the program was still being offered.


Of the 129 congregations (9%) which indicated some provision or support for programs for refugees, 28 provided formal services. Substantive differences between these 129 congregations were congregation size, annual budget, and affiliation. Descriptions of types of services provided by 18 detailed program descriptions were coded into 11 areas of service. Half of the 18 detailed program descriptions available indicated the congregations' denominational or ethnic link to the refugee's country of origin.

Conclusion and Implications:

Chaves & Tsitsos (2001) and Twombly (2002) suggested that congregations are less likely to be involved in activities which require prolonged and specialized work with recipients. The intensive cases that we looked at (18 programs) confirm that congregational involvement in likely predicated by refugee flows from a specific country or region of origin but these programs were not necessarily sustained once the crisis in the area ended. Even though the need for refugee assistance is ongoing, commonalities such as language or recent immigrant experience seemed to be important factors which shaped congregational engagement with certain refugee populations. These findings underscore the need for refugee-serving agencies to sensitize the public and congregations to the ongoing need for refugee assistance. Additionally, training and support, as well as sustainable funding for congregations and other sponsors, including translators or language training, cultural sensitivity, and possibly training to recognize post-traumatic stress or clinical depression and when to refer individuals for professional counseling are practical and policy implications.