Equity & Diversity

Study Examines Efforts to Improve Head Start Access for Refugee Children

By Corey Mitchell — March 16, 2016 2 min read
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The number of newly arrived refugee children enrolled in early-childhood-education programs surged in two cities where Head Start officials and resettlement agencies worked together to help families adjust to their new communities.

A report from the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute explores how efforts in Syracuse, N.Y., and Phoenix helped early-childhood-education providers responded to the cultural and language needs of students and families, many of whom don’t speak English as a first language or at all.

Research indicates that immigrant families have less access to initiatives such as Head Start, a federally funded program that provides early education for children from low-income families. But many of the families are in dire need of services because the parents arrive in the United States with few financial resources and “often limited English proficiency, literacy and, and formal education,” all constraints that could jeopardize the children’s academic success, the report authors concluded.

Conducting in-depth interviews and focus groups with resettlement staff, Head Start workers, and refugee parents, the Migration Policy Institute researchers found that collaboration can help introduce refugees to a “coordinated network of community services that can support their children’s successful transition to kindergarten.”

The collaborations in Syracuse and Phoenix, two cities that welcome refugees, yielded larger than expected gains. Between 2008 and 2013, refugee enrollment in Syracuse-based Head Start and Early Head Start programs increased 500 percent. During that same period, enrollment in Phoenix-based programs doubled.

According to the report, both sites are home to refugees from the major populations that resettled in the United States in 2011-12: primarily Burmese Karen and Chin, Bhutanese, Somali, and Iraqi. The dramatic enrollment spikes occurred despite the fact that overall refugee arrivals in the cities declined during that same period.

The report offers recommendations to boost the school readiness of refugee children, including:

  • Providing information on child care and education services as part of the Department of State-funded overseas cultural orientation for refugees bound for the United States.
  • Urging refugee-resettlement agencies to connect pregnant women and families with young children to Head Start or other early-childhood-education programs.
  • Allowing the Office of Head Start to track data about children in refugee and immigrant families to identify languages spoken at home, and the English-proficiency level of both the children and their parents.

Here’s a look at the Migration Policy Institute report:

Fcd Morland Final

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.