Abstract: The Role of Culturally Responsive Social and Emotional Learning in Supporting Refugee Inclusion and Belonging: A Thematic Analysis of Service Provider Perspectives (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

The Role of Culturally Responsive Social and Emotional Learning in Supporting Refugee Inclusion and Belonging: A Thematic Analysis of Service Provider Perspectives

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Mint, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Cyril Bennouna, Doctoral Student, Brown University, RI
Hannah Brumbaum, Recent MSW/MSP Graduate, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Molly McLay, MSW, LCSW, Doctoral Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Carine Allaf, Senior Programs Advisor, Qatar Foundation International, DC
Michael Wessells, PhD, Professor, Columbia University, NY
Lindsay Stark, DrPH, Associate Professor of Social Work and Public Health, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: Young refugees resettled to the U.S. from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region face significant acculturative stressors, including language barriers, different norms and practices, unfamiliar institutional environments, and discrimination. While schools may ease newcomer adjustment and inclusion, they also risk exacerbating acculturative stress. This study sought to understand the opportunities that schoolwide social and emotional learning (SEL) efforts may present for supporting refugee integration and belonging.

Methods: Data was collected during 2018-2019 in Austin, Texas; Harrisonburg, Virginia; and Detroit Metropolitan Area, Michigan as part of as part of the Study of Adolescent Lives after Migration to America (SALaMA), a multi-year, mixed-methods study exploring the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of newcomers resettled to the U.S. from the MENA region. Semi-structured interviews were held with a purposive sample of educators and other providers responsible for services, programming, or policies relevant to newcomer adolescents and their families. Questions focused on challenges faced by newcomers, as well as available supports, strengths that newcomers brought to their schools and communities, and ideas for promoting positive outcomes for these students. Thematic analysis was conducted on transcripts from these interviews using the constant comparative method (Glaser and Strauss 2017; Silverman 2015) and guided by the framework of culturally responsive pedagogy (Gay 2010; Muñiz 2019).

Results: Forty service providers were interviewed across the three sites. Of the providers, 65% (n=26) identified as women; 55% (n=22) were in leadership positions (e.g., administration), while 45% (n=18) were in direct service provision roles. While newcomers and service providers across study sites struggled with acculturative stressors and structural barriers to meaningful engagement, they often overcame those challenges in innovative ways that recognized and drew upon the cultural assets of newcomer students and their families. Schoolwide SEL provided several mechanisms through which schools could facilitate newcomer adjustment and belonging. These included adult SEL (through provider self-reflection and efforts to center students in their learning); school climate (through welcome orientations, restorative and trauma-informed practices, and formal trainings); and family engagement (through the use of school liaisons, programs to address structural needs, and community relationship-building by school leaders).

Conclusions and Implications: Schools play a central role in welcoming young refugees after resettlement. This study highlights the opportunities that schoolwide SEL efforts offer for supporting newcomer integration and belonging through measures to enhance culturally responsive adult SEL, to cultivate more welcoming and inclusive school climates, and to develop strong relationships with newcomer families and communities. Given the centrality of schools and other public services in supporting the resettlement and integration of newcomers, further research should expand these efforts and aim to ascertain the degree to which educators and frontline service providers offer culturally responsive supports.