Many refugees are settling in the United States as a result of wars in the Middle East, Africa, Central America, and Asia, and many arrive in Illinois as part of our nation’s formal refugee resettlement program. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, about 2,500 refugees arrived each year in Illinois in 2013 and 2014. It is important that home visiting programs, child care centers, and preschools welcome families of young children who are new to Illinois and the United States.
Teachers and administrators of programs for young children need to be especially aware of the needs of refugees. The authors of a Migration Policy Institute report found that refugee families often have strong family structures, high parental employment, and high parental education. Before arriving in the United States, some families may have spent time in resettlement camps where there were few resources. Young children who come to the United Sates as refugees may have experienced physical and/or psychological trauma. They may not have been able to play outdoors or attend school because of violence in their homeland.
Teachers and caregivers of young children who are refugees need to be sensitive to children’s emotional cues. Some children experience nightmares and have difficulty sleeping. They may have less persistence and a hard time concentrating on tasks. In addition to learning a new language and culture, young children who are refugees may need more adult attention to teach them how to play and use materials with their peers.
Understanding a refugee family’s experiences and cultural practices helps teachers and caregivers attend to cues that a young child is experiencing stress. Every refugee family’s resettlement process is different, so it is important not to assume that all refugees from a particular region will have had the same experiences. It’s important for early care and education professionals to learn about a family’s background and beliefs about education and provide them access to local community resources. Home visitors, child care providers, and preschool teachers all play a significant role in welcoming young children and their families who arrive as refugees.