Many adults and children from other countries enter the United States with the goal of creating their homes here every year. Refugee children and their caregivers are a unique group of immigrants who have experienced situations where they left the country where they were living because of fear of harm. The number of refugees who arrive in the United States changes based on a variety of situations (e.g., political decisions, COVID-19), but in the past 20 years, about 70,000 refugees have arrived in the United States every year.
Parents of children receiving special education services are expected to be involved in their child’s educational planning. Early childhood teachers support refugee families to be involved in their children’s education by building partnerships with them. Early childhood teachers can build partnerships with refugee families during home visits. This blog will describe four strategies teachers can use to build partnerships with families.
Preparing for home visits
Learn about the family’s culture
Before visiting a refugee family’s home, early childhood teachers should learn more about the family’s country of origin. Teachers can work with professionals in their communities, including interpreters, English as a second language (ESL) teachers, adult English teachers, social workers, parent representatives from the family’s culture, and community organizations that support refugee families. Teachers can approach home visits more sensitively when they have an understanding of the educational system in the family’s country of origin, how disability is understood there, and social rules within their culture.
Learn about the family’s language
Early childhood teachers can also prepare for home visits by learning more about the family’s language and the need for an interpreter. Families may prefer a specific person to act as an interpreter. For example, families may prefer a family friend or a previous interpreter with whom they have had a positive experience. Families may have concerns related to privacy and confidentiality (especially in small communities), the gender of the interpreter, and previous experiences with the interpreter.
Teachers should explore any concerns by working with other professionals (e.g., ESL teacher, special education evaluator, secretary) who have met or worked with the family to understand the family’s language needs. Teachers can then arrange an interpreter service (phone or an in-person) to discuss the family’s preference for future interpreters. Other school staff that might speak the family’s language may also reach out to the family about their preferences for interpretation.
Teachers can meet with interpreters before the meeting to share what they will discuss with the family and determine whether there are any words that cannot be easily interpreted. Sometimes, interpreters can help teachers understand the family’s body language and responses.
During home visits
Learn more about the family’s culture, routines, and interactions
Teachers can learn so much from families during home visits. Teachers can find items in the home, such as pictures, food, and children’s toys, to start conversations with the family. For example, a teacher may see a picture of a landscape and ask the family to tell them more about it. During this conversation, the family can share information about their country of origin and life experiences. A teacher may ask what the child likes to play with at home, allowing the family to share information about parent-child interactions, materials the child uses for play, and what play looks like in their home.
Learn more about the family’s educational experiences
During home visits, teachers can learn about the family’s school experiences. To prepare for visits, they can ask others who are familiar with the country of origin about differences in their educational systems. Teachers can ask families what school was like for them and how people with disabilities were educated there. They can form deeper relationships with families by showing interest in their experiences and asking open-ended questions such as “Can you tell me what education would have been like for (your child) in (country of origin)?” or “Can you tell me more about what opportunities you had in school?”
Through home visits, teachers can gain a better understanding of refugee families by being sensitive to cultural norms and language needs. Teachers who show interest and curiosity during home visits can build trusting partnerships with the families they serve.