Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

San Antonio Catholic Charities and Family Services Association

Program Name

San Antonio’s Head Start for Refugee Children

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

For the past 25 years, Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio, Inc. (Catholic Charities) has been resettling refugees from around the world. From the day of arrival until they become self-sufficient, active members of our community, Catholic Charities walks alongside refugees, providing services to help them gain self-sufficiency. As the sole resettlement provider in San Antonio and its surrounding areas, Catholic Charities resettles refugees from countries like Bhutan, Burma (Myanmar), Burundi, Chad, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Liberia, Iran, Iraq, and Somalia. Catholic Charities welcomed 158 refugees to San Antonio in FY 2005, 211 in FY 2006, 339 in FY 2007, 608 in FY 2008, 1,008 in FY 2009, and 802 in FY 2010.

Most refugees arrive to America in family units. As the Refugee Services program proceeds to find gainful employment for eligible adults in the family, great barriers are encountered. One of the most common barriers encountered when finding employment for refugee children is lack of childcare and early childhood development opportunities. An example of how great the need is for childcare in San Antonio is evident in a letter sent to Catholic Charities from the City of San Antonio on July 1, 2011 which states that there are over 5,000 children on the waitlist for the Child Care Services (CCS) Program (which is the program funded by the government to assist low-income families in need of childcare services).

Program Description

Family Service Association of San Antonio (Family Service) in partnership with the City of San Antonio, serving as the Head Start Grantee, provides education services to 2,296 three and four year olds, and family and community support services for 6,123 families. Family Service was established in San Antonio in the year 1903 with the mission to "empower individuals and families to transform their lives and strengthen their communities" and serves approximately 80,000 persons each year. In 2009, the Family Service-Head Start began a pilot program where it reached out to provide education and family and community support services to 35 newly-arrived refugee children from 14 different countries. At this time, the North Side Independent School District was overwhelmed by refugee children ages three and four. In 2010, 70 refugee children were served from 14 countries. And, in 2011, 48 children were served from nine countries (the slightly lower number reflects 2011 budget reductions). 

The implications of Family Service accepting such a large percentage of the three and four year old refugee population resettled by Catholic Charities were vast. From the perspective of increased self-sufficiency for families, it provided an opportunity for  refugee parents with preschool children, particularly single mothers, to go to work without having to worry about finding affordable and trustworthy center-based early childhood services.  In addition to these parents who found employment, over the past three years, Family Service-Head Start has been able to employ 10 refugees to work in its programming as caseworkers and translators. 

Moreover, Family Service partners with Catholic Charities to provide additional classes and casework to these young children and their families, according to need and capacity. These value-added activities help to enrich the services that are already provided, to ensure that any gaps are filled and to provide accountability. Some of the classes that Family Service–Head Start has offered over the past year to supplement Catholic Charities orientation classes and job readiness classes include: parenting classes, classes regarding child abuse issues, nutrition, and other health lessons.

Resource Materials Used in Program

Catholic Charities Refugee Services:

  • Utilizes a coordinator to assist with referring refugee children to Head Start program.
  • Provides contract interpreters to assist Head Start families when emergency needs arise.

Family Service utilizes: 

  • Translators and interpreters for the purpose of administering this program.
  • Materials and funds for the educational classes for parents.
  • Parent Advocates (case workers) are utilized to make home visits in order to follow up with challenges that teachers identify for children in the classroom setting.

Groups Served by Program

Refugee children age three to four years old from 14 countries.  The top countries served in 2009 were Iraq, Somalia, Bhutan, and Burma.  The top country served in 2011 was Burma.

Program Funding

Catholic Charities:

  • Various sources

Family Service:

  • Administration of Children and Families

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

Catholic Charities:

  • One coordinator (works part time collaborating with Head Start Program)

Family Service:

  • Director of Head Start
  • Two family advocates
  • Multiple Head Start teachers

Program Evaluation

  • 85% of the parents who have their children enrolled have been able to find employment
  • Many parents are able to attend ESL classes and job readiness classes because they have childcare through Head Start

Program Outcomes

  • First year (2009) (pilot project): 35 refugee children served from 14 countries
  • Second year (2010): 70 refugee children served from 14 countries
  • Third year (2011): 48 refugee children served from 9 countries

Additional Comments

Program Contact

Paula Walker
Director of Refugee Services, Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio, Inc.

Nancy L. Hard
President/CEO of Family Service Association of San Antonio, Inc.

David E. Blegen
Vice President – Agency Services for Family Service Association of San Antonio, Inc.

Program Dates

 This program began in August 2009 and is currently still operating as of September 2011.