Abstract: 'between Two Hard Rocks:' Perspectives from Service Providers on Risk and Protective Factors for Acculturating Immigrant and Refugee Families from MENA in the US (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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317P 'between Two Hard Rocks:' Perspectives from Service Providers on Risk and Protective Factors for Acculturating Immigrant and Refugee Families from MENA in the US

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Alison Roberts, BA, Research Assistant, University of Texas-Arlington School of Social Work, Arlington, TX
Saltanat Childress, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas-Arlington School of Social Work, Arlington, TX
Rachel Boyd, BS Student, Bard College, Red Hook, NY
Nibedita Shrestha, M.Phil, Graduate Teaching Assistant, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Ilana Seff, DrPH, Research Assistant Professor, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
Lindsay Stark, DrPH, Associate Professor of Social Work and Public Health, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Background/Purpose: There is relatively little research on the acculturation experience of immigrants and refugees (IRs) from Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and almost no studies of these experiences from the perspective of the professional service providers that work closely with the families during their resettlement process in the US. This study attempts to close this gap by exploring the accounts which service providers offer about the acculturation challenges faced by these groups, focusing on the risk and protective factors that MENA IR families face while adapting to life in the US. These service providers are an important source of insight into the experiences of these groups, because they deal with large volumes of IR families, establishing rapport with them and gaining access to personal stories from which the service providers draw generalized concepts and construct interpretive frameworks.

Methods: The data for the study were collected through fifteen qualitative semi-structured interviews from professional service providers in the US. The participants included four refugee resettlement case workers, two refugee resettlement school impact coordinators, one cultural orientation leader, one refugee resettlement clinical counselor, four teachers, one parent/teacher coordinator, one school counselor, and one ESL counselor. All the social service and educational sector professionals interviewed had at least three years of experience working with MENA region families, with the majority involved for more than five years with this population. The interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using Nvivo 12 qualitative computer software. To ensure the rigor of the study, analytic triangulation, and peer-debriefing were conducted, and raw data were presented to explain the findings.

Findings: Analysis of the interviews reveal six main themes: 1) widespread acculturation stress; 2) gender and family roles and disparities; 3) risks of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), 4) stigmatization of mental health, 5) the lack of culturally competent services and training, and 6) the importance of community. The service professionals provided insight into how the families and students struggle with trauma responses while adjusting to a new culture. The service providers emphasized the prevalence of exposure to trauma experienced by IRs from these regions including violence, war, and difficult migration journeys. Yet few of the IRs exposed to trauma have sufficient knowledge about mental health and many carry misconceptions about mental health and attach stigma to mental health problems. Analysis of the data revealed that many educators and other service providers lack cultural competence and trauma-informed education when working with students and families from this population.

Implications/Conclusion: The study shows that an unmet gap exists between the needs of the MENA IRs and the actual assistance they receive. Findings from the research indicate that IR families from the MENA region experience acculturative stressors that require cultural competence and trauma informed responses from service providers, policymakers, and other important community members. The results emphasize the need for more culture-specific training, services, and interventions among service professionals so that the IRs receive the necessary support during the resettlement process in the US.