Serving Refugee and Immigrant Families in the United States

A rapidly growing demographic in the United States are children born to immigrant families. These children and their families may face a number of economic and social barriers as they grow and develop in their new surroundings. Some of these circumstances may open them up to issues such as violence exposure, problems with school readiness and access to services. However, many organizations are working to bridge this gap between services and immigrant and refugee communities by providing resources and guidance. Two examples of projects working towards this goal are the Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS) project and the Safe Start Center.

BRYCS does this through the provision of technical assistance between national organizations and immigrant and refugee communities in areas such as early childhood education and child welfare. This month they just released a new handbook, Raising Young Children in a New Country: Supporting Early Learning and Healthy Development. Check it out here.

BRYCS Screenshot


The handbook is part of a larger joint effort by BRYCS, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Head Start and the National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness to create a larger Collaboration Toolkit of similar resources. It is designed for immigrant and refugee parents to use in conjunction with service providers to provide them with important early childhood information to help them adapt themselves and their children. This and other resources in the toolkit will serve to help give families and communities much needed information by looking at six important themes:

  1. Family Well-Being
  2. Safety and protection
  3. Guidance and discipline
  4. Healthy Brain development
  5. Early learning and school readiness
  6. Connecting to Early Care and Education

The Safe Start Center also provides a great resource to help agencies working with immigrant families. The Trauma Informed Tips for Agencies working with Immigrant Families does this by sharing some of the potential warning signs of exposure to violence in children aged 0-18.  It also gives agency staff important information to serve their clients, including tips on how to:

  1. Screen for exposure to violence symptoms and mental health needs of children and their families on an ongoing basis
  2. Refer families for comprehensive mental health assessments that include lifetime exposure to violence and acculturation stressors
  3. Plan for individualized interventions that take into consideration traumatic experiences for both caregivers and children, which may be affecting the current family situation
  4. Expand the definition of “trauma-informed care” and “evidence-based interventions”

Do you know of any other useful resources for immigrant families? Share them below!


New NCAVP report on LGBT-related violence and prevention programs

Coinciding with Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride month annually held in June, is a report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), titled Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2012.  The report looks at national level data from 15 programs across 16 states that work towards anti-violence.

The report shows that although there has been a decrease in reported LGBT-related violence nationally, there has been a rise in some states like New York. Also troubling are the report numbers showing that children and young adults aged 29 and under represented almost half of the victims and survivors. This reveals the need to rapidly increase anti-violence programming for children and young adults.

However, the report does share some great examples of organizations already working to combat this violence. Based in Washington D.C., some of these organizations include Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) and the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC).  The report also noted Project Empowerment that has positively helped to increase access to education and employment for at-risk and disenfranchised LGBT residents.

Below are some recommendations and best practices included in the report:


  • Decrease the risk of severe violence and homicide through ending LGBTQ and HIV-affected poverty.
  • Increase funding for LGBTQ and HIV-affected anti-violence support and prevention programs.
  • Community Based Organizations should create programs and campaigns to prevent anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected harassment and violence.
  • Schools and universities should create LGBTQ and HIV-affected anti-violence initiatives and LGBTQ and HIV-affected-inclusive curricula to reduce hate violence and harassment.
  • Schools, universities, and community-based organizations, including anti-violence programs, service organizations, and faith organizations, should collect data on violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected people.

American Street Kid

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, a 2002 study put out by the US Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) found that there are over 1.6 million homeless and runaway youth in the United States, and this number is growing every year.

The National Coalition for the Homeless notes that these youth become homeless for a variety of reasons typically falling under three, often related, categories: family problems, economic problems, and residential instability. Youth leave home to escape problems, but they often become exposed to a wide variety of violence, including trauma, abuse, poverty, substance abuse, and increased incidence of contracting illnesses such as HIV. Many also face the challenges of finding safe places to sleep or even feeding themselves.

American Street Kid is a new documentary film sharing the stories of youth that have experienced the terrible reality of the traumas and difficulties that can lead to homelessness. The film was created by film maker Michael Leoni using footage from five years worth of interviews and work on the streets of Los Angeles collecting the voices of hundreds of youth living on the city’s streets.

This film is working to raise awareness about the very real problem of youth homelessness and to give voice to the millions of children and youth that are homeless across the United States.

Check out the campaign below:

American Street Kid

The NatSCEV II: a Q&A with Dr. Sherry Hamby

The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), a joint effort by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Centers for Disease Control, first surveyed the incidence and prevalence of children’s exposure to violence in 2008. The survey included 4,500 children and looked at these changes across the spectrum of violence, abuse, and assault including conventional crime, maltreatment and sexual victimization.

This week the NatSCEV II was released as a follow up to the 2008 data. The survey, completed in 2011 with a new cohort of 4,500 children, provides an update of the trends for childhood exposure to violence and abuse victimizations.

The Safe Start Center met with Dr. Sherry Hamby, a Research Professor in the Department of Psychology at Sewanee, the University of the South and part of the team who developed and conducted the NatSCEV to discuss the release of the NatSCEV II.

1. What do you think is some of the most important new data that people should be aware of from this update of the NatSCEV?

NatSCEV 2 is important because this is part of the first ongoing effort to track crime, violence, and abuse against children of all ages. We hope this will be regular surveillance, much like the way we have tracked crimes against adults for many decades, including crimes that are not reported to the police.

NatSCEV 2 also shows that rates of youth victimization are generally holding steady, despite the financial crisis. Although financial strain can have adverse effects on families, overall we did not see a worsening of children’s exposure to violence. Although these rates are still far too high, it is good news they are not getting worse.

2. Are there any areas of the research that you think could be expanded upon in the future?

We are always trying to expand research into new domains–that is the essence of science. In NatSCEV 2, we have some exciting new data, including new approaches to measuring neglect and the criminal justice and social service response to family violence. Look for upcoming papers on these and other topics.

3. How would you like to see this new data used to inform ongoing research and the field of children’s exposure to violence?

If I could wave my magic wand, there are two changes I would most like to see. The first is a more integrated approach to research and practice, instead of siloed programs and institutions that tend to focus on just one problem at a time, such as parental abuse OR bullying. It should be parental abuse AND bullying AND all of the other types of victimization children experience. The second is a more developmental approach where we don’t take programs developed for high school students–or worse, college students–and then with just a few tweaks try to offer essentially the same program to middle or elementary school students. Kids have different needs at different ages.

4. Is there anything else you’d like to add about the updated findings?

This is the third nationally representative U.S. sample that shows the importance of poly-victimization. Poly-victimization is the experiencing of multiple different types of violence, usually in multiple settings by multiple perpetrators. Keeping children safe requires a child-centered approach that includes all the major settings and relationships of a child’s life: family, school, and community.

New data shows U.S. children still being exposed to serious violence and trauma

Two surveys released this week provide new data showing that children in the U.S. are still being exposed to serious levels of violence and childhood trauma.

The National Survey of Children’s Health (NHCS), closely aligned with the Center for Disease Control’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, interviewed almost 100,000 people across the U.S. Surveyors asked participants about nine kinds of adverse experiences including physical abuse and witnessing domestic violence (read more about the scoring here). Almost half of the children were reported to have experienced at least one out of the nine adverse experiences. The survey also found that youth ages 12 -17 had experienced at least two or more types of childhood trauma that may impact their mental and physical health in adulthood.

An update on the National Survey on Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV) mirrored this information. Released Monday, the survey that interviewed more than 4,500 children, conducted by Finkelhor et al 2013[1] found that although the rate of violence against children has decreased since the first survey conducted in 2008, children are still regularly exposed to multiple types of violence and abuse.

Data on the rate of victimization remains unchanged 3 in 5 children are being physically assaulted every year and 10.1% are injured because of assault.  Additionally, more than 13% of the children were harmed by a parent or caregiver in the last year and sometimes that maltreatment included physical abuse. Additionally, 22% witnessed community and family violence. There were some declines in rates of exposure to things such as sibling assault and school bomb threats.

In light of this new data it is vital we remember that although children are often resilient in the face of violence and traumatic events, more must be done to respond to building that resilience. This means using studies like the NHCS and NatSCEV to nurture resilience through the provision of health-based evidence-based interventions and public awareness about the impact of trauma and exposure to violence.

Additionally, these studies highlight the need for continued efforts in collecting more detailed data, the creation of enhanced comprehensive tools to collect that data, and the need to correctly identify these experiences and their related effects.

[1] David Finkelhor, PhD; Heather A. Turner, PhD; Anne Shattuck, MA; Sherry L. Hamby, PhD JAMA Pediatr. 2013;():1-8. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.42.

The importance of good emotional and mental health for children and youth

Many people are aware of the importance of teaching their children about safety. These conversations typically center on teaching kids how to protect their physical safety and prevent accidents.

What is less well-understood is the importance of also teaching children and young adults about the importance of good emotional and mental health. These conversations are so important because understanding how to prevent or protect against the potential negative effects of experiencing violence and trauma can go a long way in preventing the early onset or severity of mental heath issues and disorders early in life.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) 50 percent of mental illnesses are developed before age 14, and about 80 percent of people with both mental health and substance abuse disorders reported the onset occurring before the age of 20. Data from 2008 also shows that the prevalence of serious mental illnesses is highest among youth 18-25.

Another dangerous problem that may inhibit discussions with youth about mental health is a misunderstanding about what good mental health and awareness actually means. Data from a U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report states that over 45 million people suffer from different mental illnesses in the U.S. and less than 40 percent receive help or treatment. It also shows that there is a cultural stigma associated with discussing mental health and a significant percentage of Americans that may have needed treatment have not received any. There is the assumption that they will suffer negative social consequences for discussing their issues.

Disorders and problems linked to mental health and substance abuse are shown as a serious public health issue affecting youth and adults across the United States. The emotional and monetary costs and burden of treating mental health problems are high for the individual, family and community. Data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’ (AHRQ) spanning a ten year period from 1996-2006 shows this significant rise in Americans paying for and using mental health services. The total expenditure on services also rose 63.4% over this period.











These rising costs have placed a greater focus on methods and practices promoting prevention across different settings. Interventions and best practices to help younger populations combat this threat have emerged in environments like schools and the child welfare system to address the broader needs of the diverse populations that they serve.

The Children’s Trust Partnership summarizes the need for action in promoting the emotional well-being of youth in the following ideas:

  1. The good emotional health of children and young people is vital to them as individuals
  2. The good emotional health of children and young people is vital to society
  3. We know what works in improving emotional health
  4. Developing these approaches and interventions should save money later
  5. Developing these approaches should help meet other priorities in communities
  6. This is not a new policy area

Read more about this case for action here.

The Safe Start Center also supports the promotion of interventions to improve positive behavioral and emotional health in children and young adults.

Understanding Children’s Exposure to Violence Brief #1 shares some ideas about program types and interventions that can both enhance resilience and reduce risks for children and young adults exposed to violence and traumatic events.

  • For all children, participation in high-quality early care and education programs can enhance physical, cognitive, and social development and promote readiness and capacity to succeed in school.
  • For at-risk families, early identification of and intervention with high-risk children by early education programs and schools, pediatric care and mental health programs, child welfare systems, and court and law enforcement agencies can prevent threats to healthy development by detecting and addressing emerging problems.
  • For children and families already exposed to violence, intensive intervention programs delivered in the home and in the community can improve outcomes for children well into the adult years and can generate benefits to society that far exceed program costs.
  • Outcomes improve when highly skilled practitioners provide intensive trauma-focused psychotherapeutic interventions to stop the negative chain reaction following exposure to traumatic stressors (e.g., child abuse and neglect, homelessness, severe maternal depression, domestic violence).

For further information check out the full issue brief here. Please continue to join us this week and month as we continue to promote awareness about the importance of good mental and emotional health!

Promoting children’s mental health awareness: An Interview with Gregory Zimmerman

The Safe Start Center is participating in several Mental Health Awareness Week 2013 activities and today we’ve done a short question and answer with an expert in the areas of mental health and children’s exposure to violence (CEV) to promote the mental, emotional and behavioral health of children and youth.

Gregory M. Zimmerman, Ph.D. is a member of the faculty at Northeastern University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. His research and teaching interests include an examination of the interrelationships among individual-level factors of crime, social context, and criminal offending. His other research involves juvenile justice, social sciences and sociological theory. He is also the co-author of a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, ‘Individual, family background, and contextual explanations of racial and ethnic disparities in youths’exposure to violence.’ You can read more about it here.

1. Why do you feel children’s exposure to violence and mental health issues are such important issues and how did you get involved with your work?

Exposure to violence is an all too common occurrence among children and adolescents that leads to an array of adverse mental health and behavioral consequences. My involvement with exposure to violence as an outcome began with the study of exposure to violence as a predictor of criminal behavior. After recognizing the link between violence exposure and violent offending, I moved to the study of exposure to violence as an outcome.

2. What do you think are some of the most valuable things you have learned through your work?

Exposure to violence is an amalgamation of experiencing and witnessing violence in the family, school, and community context. It is important to disaggregate exposure to violence in order to understand the different mechanisms leading to the different kids of violence exposure.

3. What do you think would have the most impact on improving the overall mental health of children at risk for exposure to violence?

Only by closing the gap between youths’ experiences with violence and parents’ perceptions of their children’s experiences can parents adequately aid in their children’s coping strategies.

4. How would you like to see research and policies shaped to address mental health awareness and exposure to violence?

I think that policies need to better address the link between what parents know and what children experience. I believe that one aspect of Safe Start is to work with schools to notify parents of incidents with violence at school. In addition, getting the school and the community to aid in addressing this problem by educating parents about how to best help their children cope with violence is key.

%d bloggers like this: