The International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis, Missouri Department of Social Services Children's Division, St. Louis City Office
New Americans and Child Protection
The collaborative relationship between the International Institute and the Department of Social Services began in 2000, after both agencies recognized that a case involving a refugee family had not gone well. In 2002, BRYCS helped facilitate a Cross-Service training between refugee communities, refugee resettlement workers, and Child Protective workers, which further strengthened the initial relationship. Four years later, the relationship is institutionalized and has helped numerous refugee families. Child Protective workers and refugee providers have often been at odds in their quest to provide both prevention and protective services to New American children. The Children's Division (the Child Protection Agency) is working within the Child Protection laws to keep children safe. New American families often come from cultures where parenting techniques differ from those required by American laws. In St. Louis, the International Institute and the Children's Division have formed a strong, multidisciplinary response when child protection is needed. While there are sometimes misunderstandings between the two disciplines, it is in everyone's best interest to form a relationship so that these differences can be worked out. Child Protective Services needs to develop staff with expertise and interest in working with New Americans. Refugee service providers need to understand child protection roles and responsibilities and the laws and definitions of child abuse and neglect.
Collaborative efforts can start with one person at each agency developing a rapport with someone at the other discipline; it just takes two. Problems can then be addressed through liaisons at both agencies. Staff at each agency needs to partner with their peers at the other agency.
JOINT HOTLINE RESPONSE: When a hotline call comes in regarding a refugee family, there is a multidisciplinary response including the hotline investigator, refugee worker, and interpreter. In addition, all Child Protective forms are available in eight languages and there is a "What Language Do You Speak" form for workers to use with refugee families to help identify what interpreters they need.
CROSS-TRAININGS: Trainings have been used to increase the cultural competence of Child Protective workers as well as an awareness of child abuse and neglect for refugee workers. A part of this process required workers from both agencies to shadow each other to gain a better understanding of each others' work. In addition, workers from both agencies meet to problem solve when there are families known to both agencies and a "Child Protection and Refugee Workgroup" meets regularly to work on situations that create problems for New Americans.
BOY/GIRL SCOUT TROOPS: Responding to accusations that American adults might be taking advantage of refugee children as well as recognizing the need for more supervision when families work irregular hours, the Children's Division and the International Institute formed Boy/Girl Scout Troops for refugee children. The groups provide the children with wholesome, fun activities while teaching them valuable skills to help them succeed in their new country.
COFFEE KLATCHES: In an attempt to share information and educate refugees about Child Protection, Bosnian parents were asked to host small groups of their friends and neighbors for coffee and informal discussions with child protection staff. The Children's Division wanted to dispel erroneous information that had spread about CPS - rumors that are common among all refugee populations. For example, there is a myth in the Bosnian community that CPS only wants to take children away. In addition, some believe that if parents try to make their children behave, their sons and daughters can call the police and have them arrested. Word of mouth is often an effective form of communication within the Bosnian community and the Children's Division decided to use this to their advantage. In addition, sitting around talking over a cup of coffee is a common activity in Bosnia. Therefore, Bosnian community leaders hosted small groups in their homes, so that they could learn the correct information and share it with others, especially those who could benefit from services in their community. Several meetings were held in family living rooms, one was held in a church building, and two sessions were held at a school with the janitorial staff who were all Bosnians. Overall, the "Coffee Klatches" were effective because the people at the meetings were not identified as people who abuse their children; therefore, there was no stigma associated with attending. What's more, this approach is easily replicated, with no associated expenses.
CHILDREN'S SERVICES IN THE SCHOOLS: CPS workers are linked to certain schools in the city of St. Louis. They spend part of the day each week in their respective schools, getting to know the teachers, children, and school personnel. Many times problems can be handled informally without a formal hotline report. For example, Children's Services encourages the schools to let them know about absenteeism before it reaches the stage where a hotline call needs to be made. Schools have the ability to fax students' attendance reports to Children's Services and they often respond with a "Safekeeping Report" (a less formal intervention than a "Child Abuse and Neglect" response). CPS workers also help the school encourage attendance by, for example, making home visits with the teachers and helping the school address behavioral issues. CPS workers sometimes facilitate situations where children are brought back to school on the bus if there is no parent at home when the bus drops them off in the afternoon. In addition, CPS workers in St. Louis often attend Parent Teachers Conferences, Back to School Picnics, Neighborhood Night Outs, and other celebrations.
Interpreters, form letters, and parenting brochures. You Can Talk with Your Child's School and You Can Help Your Children in School videos in English and Bosnian at http://www.comm.media.state.mn.us/bookstore/
Children served are from Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kurdistan, Russia, and a number of African countries.
The Children's Division pays the International Institute for interpretation, due to Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which requires agencies receiving federal funding to ensure there are no barriers to access due to language. Otherwise, this collaborative relationship requires no funding charges and is based on consistent communication and resource sharing between existing employees in both agencies.
Each agency has an employee who serves as a main contact, but each of those individuals also has other roles and responsibilities in their respective agencies. All of the employees from both agencies, however, participate in the cross-trainings and have contacts with their counterparts at the other agency.
While they have not done a formal evaluation, they have collected case examples that demonstrate the effectiveness of their collaboration. See the interview that BRYCS did with Frances Johnson for case examples at http://www.brycs.org/documents/upload/interview_johnson.pdf.
The main outcome we hope to achieve is that when a problem arises, all employees know who to contact for help with refugee or CPS issues. Ultimately, refugee families and children will be safer and their interactions with both agencies will be culturally-appropriate as well as within the guidelines of child protection laws.
Children's Services would like to purchase portable DVD players so that the videos on the American education system (see the link above) can be viewed in the families' homes when CPS staff responds to hotline reports on educational neglect.
The International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis
Social Work Coordinator
(314) 773-9090 (x160)
Department of Social Services, Children's Division
This joint initiative began in 2000 and is still operating today.