Educational Considerations for Refugee And Migrant Children in the United States


School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding and Development

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This briefing addresses the issue of refugee and migrant children in schools in the United States (US), an issue at the intersection of international migration policy and national education policy. By providing examples from personal narratives, academic literature, and best practices, the author provides policymakers, educators, and programme developers with resources to address the issues foreign-born students face in negotiating multiple cultural identities while linguistically and culturally adapting in the US. The United Nations (UN) estimated that at the end of 2015 there were approximately 244 million international migrants, 65.3 million forcibly displaced persons, 16.1 million refugees under mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and 12.4 million who had been newly displaced in 2015 by conflict or persecution (UN 2016 UN 2016, International Migration Report 2015: Highlights, New York, NY: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. [Google Scholar] ; UNHCR 2016 UNHCR 2016, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015, Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. [Google Scholar] ). Although less than 1% of registered refugees are resettled in a third country, the US resettled 402,575 refugees, primarily from the Middle East, South Asia, and Eastern and Central Africa, from 2009 to 2014 (ORR 2015 ORR 2015, ‘Refugee Arrival Data’, US Department of Health and Human Services: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/resource/refugee-arrival-data . [Google Scholar] ). The percentage of all refugees in the US under the age of 18 continues to rise, up from 13% in 1998 to 46% in 2012, and when immigrants and other foreign-born children are included they accounted for 20% of all US children in 2015 (US Department of State 2015 US Department of State 2015, ‘Cumulative Summary of Refugee Admission 2015’: http://www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/statistics/251288.htm . [Google Scholar] ). Overall, the percentage of all children living in the US with at least one foreign-born parent rose from 15% in 1994 to 24% in 2014 (Federal Interagency Forum on Child Statistics 2015 Federal Interagency Forum on Child Statistics 2015, ‘America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2015’: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/family4.asp . [Google Scholar] ). These migration trends coincide with a growing body of literature focused on educating the increasing proportion of foreign-born children and children with foreign-born parents in the US. Research evidence suggests that English language learner (ELL) status and poor language proficiency are associated with poor academic performance, externalising behaviour problems, and strained student–teacher relationships (Garefino 2009 Garefino, A.C. 2009, ‘Behavioral and Academic Competencies Associated with English Language Learner Status’, PhD thesis, State University of New York at Buffalo. [Google Scholar] , 30). Similar behavioural and academic problems are common in children coming from conflict zones. These include a broad range of internal psychological, family system, community, and socio-cultural factors that contribute to risk and resilience and directly affect intelligence, locus of control, temperament, caregiver mental health, quality of attachment to caregivers, sources and quality of social support, institutional integration, and cultural/religious belief systems (Betancourt & Khan 2008 Betancourt, T.S. & Khan, K.T. 2008, ‘The Mental Health of Children Affected by Armed Conflict: Protective Processes and Pathways to Resilience’ in International Review of Psychiatry 20: 3: 317–328. [Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar] ; Weine et al. 2014 Weine, S.M., Ware, N., Hakizimana, L., Tugenberrg, T., Currie, M., Dahnweih, G., Wagner, M., Polutnik, C. & Wulu, J. 2014, ‘Fostering Resilience: Protective Agents, Resources, and Mechanisms for Adolescent Refugees’ Psychosocial Well-Being’ in Adolescent Psychiatry 4: 164–176. [Crossref], [Google Scholar] ).


Journal of Peacebuilding & Development

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