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Home » Child/Adolescent Mental Health » Who’s At Risk? » Refugees » General Cultural Considerations

General Cultural Considerations

Everyone in society belongs to a culture, and many subcultures, that may include such things as gender, age, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, religion, and economic status. Culturally competent support of children and adolescents requires awareness and respect of the values, beliefs, traditions, customs, and parenting practices of the diverse families in our schools and communities.

The refugee groups in Chittenden County each have distinct cultures and cultural norms.  Below are general guidelines for working with refugees, regardless of their country of origin.

  • Many refugees have lost loved ones and leave family and/or friends behind when they  move to resettlement communities.  Some have few family ties in their resettled community and may struggle with feelings of isolation.
  • Like others who have experienced trauma, refugees may have a difficult time trusting others.  An increased focus on relationship building when working with refugees is beneficial for the refugees as well as child or family serving professionals.
  • Although stigma surrounding mental illness continues in America, this stigma may be even greater among refugee groups who may have a different belief system about the causes and treatments for mental health problems.
  • The effects of traumatic experiences are compounded by the fact that refugees did not have time or resources to address these in their home countries or refugee camps.  Unresolved grief is very common.
  • Many refugees have witnessed or been victims of weapons of war that are not traditionally used in America.  Tragically, food deprivation and torture, for example, have been used as weapons of war.
  • Learning new methods of disciplining their children, as well as becoming familiar with American laws regarding domestic abuse, can be challenging for some refugee families.
  • The language and communication barriers that exist for refugee groups cannot be over-emphasized.  Unfortunately, it is common for refugee children to become their families’ translators and interpreters, which sets up a challenging power differential between family members.
  • Children and youth, women, and older refugees are sub-groups within refugee groups who may experience a more difficult time adjusting to their new ways of life.
  • Due to their histories, refugee groups arrive to their resettlement areas without financial resources and support, perpetuating their low economic status.
  • Refugee parents may not understand our local school expectations about parent involvement in their children’s schooling.  They may think of school staff as experts whom they respect and they may be under the impression that their children are the school’s responsibility.
  • Refugee groups might have a different relationship with time than Americans. For example, refugees may be unfamiliar with keeping a calendar and the idea of being “on time.”