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CST Holds Multi-Cultural Parenting Workshop

July 27, 2012

In addition to pre-migration trauma, refugees face unique post-migration stressors that often exacerbate mental health issues and disrupt family systems. All refugee parents relate to the stress of raising children in a foreign country with different cultural norms, laws, and systems related to youth. To address these issues, on Father’s Day, June 18, 2012, AACI Center for Survivors of Torture (CST) organized an innovative refugee parenting workshop with simultaneous translations in several languages. This successful workshop was part of a mental health prevention and early intervention project for new refugees, where CST engages with nine newly arrived ethnic communities in Santa Clara County. CST has organized more than 150 events thus far as part of the New Refugee Services Program.

CST’s multi-disciplinary team of case managers, psychiatrist, counselors, and program support staff worked in conjunction with cultural experts from Afghanistan, Burma, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Iran, and Iraq to garner insight into the challenges refugee parents face to better inform the educational content of the event. The four-hour workshop was attended by 70 refugee parents and 45 refugee children and included volunteers for children’s activities, while parents attended the workshop. Through a generous donation, CST staff provided art materials and small gifts for children.

Dr. Suzan Song, AACI’s internationally renowned child and adult psychiatrist, spoke extensively about cultural parenting values in America, discipline, child development, and how to maintain health and well-being. Dr. Song addressed numerous inquisitive questions and concerns from refugee parents, focusing on reconciling parenting values from host cultures and understanding acculturation processes. After the workshop, a communal lunch was served with ethnic dishes brought by each community to share. The workshop closed with a raffle of donated prizes and gift certificates.

This innovative program was not only designed, planned, and organized by CST and community members, but also used a unique approach to dealing with typical cultural barriers like language. As most parents were monolingual, a translation system, composed of transmitters and head-sets, was provided for use by volunteer interpreters and parents.

Additionally, due to the limited research on the mental health of refugee families, carefully selected assessments were administered to understand parent and child post-migration familial experiences. Measures were translated into native languages of refugees for ease of administration. Information derived from these assessments will give better insight into some of the specific issues impacting refugee families, which could prospectively help formulate more culturally-appropriate interventions.

This unprecedented event served many purposes, including educating and supporting newly arrived refugee parents from feeling isolated with parenting challenges, exposing them to other cultures, and providing outreach for access to mental health services. Due to the positive reception, AACI hopes to continue community-based participatory workshops that take innovative approaches to meeting the needs of Santa Clara County’s refugee communities.

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