Abstract: We Have a Way to Go: Refugee Service Providers' Perspectives on Barriers and Strategies for Improving Educational Outcomes for Refugee Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

580P We Have a Way to Go: Refugee Service Providers' Perspectives on Barriers and Strategies for Improving Educational Outcomes for Refugee Youth

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Amy E. Stein, PhD Candidate, MSW, LCSW, Adjunct Faculty Professor, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
Cindy Sousa, PhD, MSW, MPH, Associate Professor, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
Janet Shapiro, PhD, Professor, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
Gretchen Shanfeld, MPH, Director of Health and Wellness, Nationalities Service Center, Philadelphia, PA
Manahil Siddiqi, Student, University of Washington
Background and Purpose:  Schools offer an ideal setting to ensure the health and well-being of refugee youth, yet they are often ill-prepared to meet the needs of refugee students and their families. Research indicates multiple physical, emotional, and behavioral health concerns among refugees, particularly children, who comprise half of the refugee population internationally and close to 40% of refugees in the United States. Among refugee youth, educational outcomes are significantly compromised by histories of trauma and oppression, and the disempowerment, poverty, mistrust of authority, and fear of deportation that are associated with their experiences. Betancourt, et al. (2012) for instance, found that over half of traumatized refugee youth had academic problems.  Disparities in educational outcomes relate partially to conflicts in settings and refugee camps, as well as the discrimination and bullying refugee youth may endure upon resettlement in the United States (Brown, 2015). 

The quality and collaborative nature of services within local educational systems are critical to the well-being and successful resettlement of refugees. Yet, little is known about how educators understand or respond to the trauma refugee families have endured. Nor do we understand, from the perspective of service providers, either the disadvantages around or the potential of integrated service delivery systems focused on supporting well-being and academic success among refugee youth. In response to this need, this research presents findings from qualitative interviews and focus groups with refugee service providers, with the aim of building knowledge about the factors that underlie the academic success of refugee youth. 

Methods: This IRB-approved research is a collaborative project between faculty researchers and the primary refugee service provider in the Philadelphia area. The research team conducted twelve interviews and two focus groups with refugee service providers. Coders analyzed data utilizing conventional content analysis. 

Results:  Refugee service providers identified educational success as a major objective among refugees. Providers also identified multiple barriers related to serving refugee youth in schools. Refugee parents experience difficulty navigating educational systems due to communication barriers and cultural differences. School personnel often lack an understanding of these barriers and differences, as well as the profound trauma refugee parents contend with, changes in family structures, and employment demands. Refugee providers identified acting as advocates for parents and coordinating services within the school system as among their central tasks.

Conclusions and Implications:  Findings indicate the necessity for school personnel to understand the communication barriers and cultural differences that refugees experience with the educational system, as well as the traumatic experiences refugees have encountered. Given our findings regarding the collaborative and advocacy duties described by providers in our study, providers can help the educational system understand the specific challenges that refugee parents encounter, thereby improving educational outcomes and well-being for refugee youth. Study results emphasize how refugee service providers are in a unique and pivotal role to educate and collaborate with schools, ensuring cultural competency in educational systems to better serve refugee youth.