Parent involvement: perceived encouragement and barriers to African refugee parent and teacher relationships

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Date: July-August 2014
From: Childhood Education(Vol. 90, Issue 4)
Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International
Document Type: Report
Length: 4,426 words
Lexile Measure: 1220L

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Children coming from refugee families have special psychological, social, and academic needs, and their success greatly depends on the positive support they receive from the host community. Teachers and peers at the school can provide cumulative support to help these children and their families overcome major socio-cultural and educational challenges. This study provides valuable insights about ways to foster meaningful relationships between refugee parents and teachers based on mutual respect, cooperation, shared responsibility, and effective communication. The findings have significance for communities and schools with a large refugee or displaced population.

A families and communities flee violence and natural disasters, refugees are moving to other lands and increasing numbers of children are entering schools in these host countries (Alidou, 2000). In 2011, the United States granted asylum to a total of 80,000 refugees from all over the world.

Of these, African refugees represent the third largest group (Martin & Yankay, 2012). They have been displaced due to ethnic strife, religious discrimination, civil wars associated with liberation, and territorial disputes (Crisp, 2000). Unlike most immigrants, who come to the host country voluntarily, refugees are forced to leave their homelands, often abruptly, due to fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, and/or expression of political opinion (Rutter, 1994). Because of their abrupt move, refugees often initially flee to a neighboring country, where they seek temporary refuge (often lasting for more than a decade in refugee camps), until they are re-settled in the host country (Segal & Mayadas, 2005).

Flight and protracted life in temporary refugee camps expose refugee children and their families to various forms of suffering, including hunger, torture, violent fights, rape, and witnessing killing and death (often of loved ones). Refugees experience posttraumatic disorders (McBrien, 2003; McClosky & Southwick, 1996) that include nightmares, depression, problems with social interaction, and being suspicious of adults such as teachers (Bjorn, 2005; McBrien, 2005). In classrooms, children traumatized in such a way may exhibit "poor concentration and restlessness, sadness and irritability, [they may appear] miserable or lacking energy, unable to settle at any one activity, [and show] fear of loud noises or groups of men" (Hyder, 1998, p. 95). Refugee parents may find it difficult to support their children in their schoolwork because of their own severe emotional distress, lack of English language and education, low socioeconomic status, and cultural integration problems (McKay, 1993).

Thus, the success of refugee families and their children depends on the economic and psychosocial supports they receive in the host country. Teachers' support, peer relationships, teacher attitude (Ainsworth-Darnell & Downey, 1998; Conchas, 2001), and strong ethnic networks and social capital (Waters, 1994; Zhou & Bankston, 1994) have a significant effect on these children's success in school. School is often the first social contact for refugee families and their children in the host country. With the appropriate administrative support, teachers can nurture refugee families' smooth transition and integration into their community (Waterman & Harry, 2008).

However, many refugee families' relationships with their children's...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A377775420