Caring Across Communities

Helping immigrant and refugee students succeed.

    • May 5, 2010

The mental health issues facing children in America are serious. Studies indicate that about 15 million children in our country have diagnosable emotional or behavioral health disorders. And less than 25 percent of children who need mental health services receive them (American Journal of Psychiatry, 2002).

The children of immigrant and refugee families face the same mental health issues as children born in America, but in addition they may be learning a new language, adapting to unfamiliar cultural norms, experiencing racism and discrimination, or coping with significant trauma. The Journal of Neuroscience reported that early-childhood traumas can lead to memory problems and declines in cognitive and mental ability later in life. For children suffering with unmet mental health issues, the impacts can be significant.

A national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Caring Across Communities recognized that barriers to seeking and receiving mental health services for children of immigrants and refugees such as cultural and language barriers—could be effectively overcome by placing the delivery of services within schools. Children frequently manifest their behavioral health disorders in the school setting, where it can be closely observed, detected and even intercepted. Parents value their children's education and are open to working with their child's school to help them succeed.

The Caring Across Communities model places mental health workers and programs in the schools, offers cultural training to teachers, and involves families and communities in the care. Schools are now playing a key role in providing mental health services to the children of immigrants and refugees. In fifteen sites across the country, the Caring Across Communities approach is benefiting about 3,000 children and their communities coming from 55 different countries.