Equity in Education: COVID’s Impact on Youth Education Part II

student doing work on a laptop computerCOVID-19 has shattered any global sense of stability. It has impacted social interactions, entertainment, travel, business, food service, and education for everyone. As individuals and communities continue to work towards building a new sense of normalcy, education continues to struggle. Teachers are experiencing intense levels of stress and burnout as they attempt to teach virtually, in-person with COVID protocols, or in some cases both at the same time. Students and caregivers are also experiencing unprecedented levels of stress from COVID. As the pandemic wears on without an ending in sight, they are in immediate need of support, resources, and changes in policy. 

Limited Access to Services

Before COVID, *Antonio was an honor student in his eighth-grade classes. He is currently struggling to maintain a C average as a virtual student. He reads the paragraph on the laptop for the fifth time, squinting and rubbing his temples. He has a headache, which has become a frequent occurrence for him since starting virtual learning. He also reports heightened anxiety from the 5-7 hours a day he is expected to spend in zoom meetings and assignments. Antonio isn’t alone, with nearly half of American children reporting increases in headaches, anxiety, exhaustion, and stress levels related to education in the pandemic. 

lonely kid looking out the window*Jaylyn is a fourth-grader and has an IEP for his anxiety and ADHD symptoms. During in-person education, Jaylyn has in-class support from a special-education classroom aide. He takes scheduled breaks during the school day and utilizes fidget tools and sensory activities to help manage his stress levels. COVID has changed his routine dramatically. During virtual learning, Jaylyn does not have access to the same support. He has had to learn to cope with noise and movement of other household members and pets while he tries to work. Frustrated after getting an answer wrong, he melts onto the floor and sobs angrily. “I can’t do it! I’m stupid! I hate school!” His outburst will pass, with support from his caregiver, but all students do not have an adult who is able to be home with them during the day. As many as 70% of the workforce is unable to work from home, and for People of Color that climbs as high as 81%. Of adults who are able to stay home, many lack the skills to help with homework assignments or social-emotional concerns. Jaylyn is overwhelmed, anxious, and desperate for a sense of normalcy. His irritability and low self-esteem are frequent symptoms for students who struggle with anxiety or other mental health or developmental concerns. 

This is a typical school day for Jaylyn and so many other children. Despite the need for interventions, support from schools has been limited for students with special needs. Balancing safety and the needs of students can be challenging, and those disabilities add additional concerns. For children like Jaylyn with ADHD, focusing on a computer for extended periods of time pushes him to his limit. In addition to symptoms of disabilities, digital concerns have also impacted the special education population at a high rate. Students from low-income families are more likely to be labeled as Special Education by their school systems. Low-income households are less likely to have access to technology or reliable internet, making it even harder for students and caregivers to get the support they need.

The Digital Divide

When most American schools shuttered their doors in March 2020, a large number of them were grossly unprepared for the lasting impact that the COVID-19 pandemic would have on the educational process. The largest concern that emerged was the lack of reliable technology and internet services for students to use while sheltering at home. Low-income and rural families have experienced the most intense effects of this gap in equity, and Students of Color have been hit hardest of all. 4.4 million U.S. households with over 11 million students lack access to a computer necessary for virtual learning. Some school districts have gotten creative with their efforts to address the lack of internet through unconventional ways like parking wifi-enabled school buses in neighborhoods. Further support and innovative ideas like this are needed to help students succeed.

Students who are fortunate enough to have internet access are still burdened with other concerns. Low internet speeds often hurt participation in zoom calls and other forms of video meetings with teachers. 59% of low-income students report technology-related difficulties when trying to participate in virtual learning. This has led to missing instruction, assignments, and increases in attendance issues. Black and Brown children are 50% less likely to have access to live sessions with their teachers during virtual learning at all. This has impacted grades, test performances, and has created an additional barrier to students being able to ask questions or gain clarity on assignments. COVID has widened the already substantial achievement gap between predominately white schools and schools where Students of Color are the majority.  White students have experienced an estimated 7 months of lost academic growth since COVID, while Black and Brown students are testing an average of 10 months lost growth. How will students recover? This question remains largely unanswered.

Inequity in Funding

Inadequate equipment, resources, and lack of staff support often boil down to a lack of financial resources. Schools, where the majority of students are People of Color, receive an average of $2,226 less per student, per year than schools where their students are predominately white. This means less money for staffing, repairs, equipment, technology, student support services, and safety protocols that are necessary to operate safely during a pandemic. U.S. schools are intensely segregated and receive 35% of their funding from local tax dollars. This means that students from low-income communities have access to fewer resources and lower quality education. It also means that these students have less exposure to diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. Children who lack experiences with people who are different from them racially, socioeconomically, or culturally, are more likely to leave school lacking the skills needed to fully integrate into society. The negative effects of segregation often follow them for the rest of their lives.

Where Do We Go From Here?Equity education hands holding different pieces of a puzzle

Increase Funding

Increasing funding in low-income school districts will even the playing field. It will allow for school districts to expand learning opportunities and the time provided to students for instruction and assignment completion. This gives students more chances to regain information and progress damaged by the pandemic.  Increased funding will also allow for expanded hiring of teachers, classroom aides, and after-school tutors. More trained adults in the in-person or online classroom mean a lower teacher-student ratio. This gives students the opportunity to benefit from individualized learning plans and interactions. Funding increases will also allow for desperately needed creation and expansion of school-based mental health services. COVID has brought a great deal of stress and change for students and providing a safe, trusted, professional to support students’ mental health has never been more critical than it is today.

Reimagine School Systems

The U.S. education system is still highly segregated, which negatively impacts learning outcomes for students. School systems, their boundaries, and their designs need to be reimagined. Gerrymandering and single-family residential zoning have hurt public education and limited diversity and equity in schools. Ending this system and implementing federal standards for diversity will hold school districts accountable for their inclusive practices. These standards should leave room for local communities to implement their own ideas about best-methods for diversifying student-bodies and staff. Allowing local input, while still promoting accountability, prioritizes the empowerment of stakeholders such as local leadership, teachers, households, and students. 

Hold Policy-Makers Accountable

Elected officials at local, state, and federal levels hold extensive power in upholding the current system or making needed changes. Involvement in local opportunities to engage with policy-makers such as school boards or elected officials is critical to supporting equity in education. You can find the names and contact information for your representatives here if you would like to express concerns, support, or suggestions for making changes in education in your community or nationwide.

Support Changemakers

There are numerous organizations that have dedicated their time, energy, and resources to supporting educational equity. They have passion and a mission for change, but they cannot succeed alone. They need support from individuals just like you who want to see positive changes and raise awareness and support for their causes. For more information on ways you can contribute please visit equityineducation.carrd.co.


Equity in Education – COVID’s Impact on Youth Education

Quote by Barack Obama that reads The Future Belongs to Young People With An Education And The Imagination To Create

The nation was turned upside down in March 2020 when the President of the United States declared a national emergency. The COVID-19 pandemic was only beginning to sweep the world. In an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, stay-at-home orders were put in place: any operations deemed nonessential were halted, work-from-home lifestyle was adopted by many, and public education changed more drastically than it had been in the past few decades. Families were forced to adopt new ways of learning in order to continue children’s academic education. 93% of households participated in distance learning in some way since the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s no denying that everyone had to make adjustments to help slow the spread of the coronavirus disease. I have worked directly with youth for all of my professional life, so the effects that COVID-19 would have on youth occupied my mind day in and day out. Youth and families around the country are dependent on critical and essential services provided by the public school system, and low-income households and Students of Color felt the most impact of accessibility to these resources. Youth’s education and future success are being greatly affected by these changes. We should be concerned about youths’ academic growth, social and emotional skill development, and physiological needs.

Knowledge acquisition

Social distancing regulations have created barriers for youth to receive in-person instruction from their schools. Many public K-12 schools have adopted remote learning through online resources to continue education. What does this look like? Children use technology to participate in virtual class time with their teachers and classmates. Online platforms are used to complete assignments and homework or hard copies of assignments are sent home for kids to work on independently. When I asked my friend, a mom of three grade-school children, what differences she has experienced with her children between remote learning compared to attending school in person, she said, “When I help my kids with school, it feels like we are tasking them. It doesn’t feel like there is any real learning going on; we just accomplish the task or assignment and move on to the next”. Students of Color are experiencing a loss of knowledge and education at the highest rate. Black and Hispanic students are more likely to receive low-quality remote learning. Achievement gaps will increase for low-income, Black, and Hispanic students by up to 20% because  40% of low-income students are not able to consistently participate in live instruction due to experiencing low or no internet access.

Socioemotional skill development

Learning essential social-emotional skills are important for youth’s success in life, with most learning happening before age 6, or before most children enter the 1st grade. Educational and learning environments support children in socioemotional learning, developing skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships, and responsible decision making. Developing these skills has many benefits to student’s academic success, such as long-term improvements in behavior, academic performance, and perception of school. I spend most of my days working at an essential child care service, helping school-aged children navigate distance learning and stay active after their school day. Without being able to interact with teachers and peers, it’s significantly challenging for youth to continue the development of these socioemotional skills. Since school has changed because of COVID, I have noticed that the same kids that I have known for years are struggling more with behavior, expressing emotions, and making friends. Here’s what they said about it…

Access to basic needs

Schools are also a major source of food services and social interactions for students. Without these resources readily available, students and their families are struggling to meet social, emotional, and physical needs. 30 million kids in the United States receive free or reduced-price meals from their schools. For many hungry children, school meals are the only nutritious meal they receive each day. Since the pandemic began and many schools across the country closed in-person instruction, only 15% of the 30 million students are receiving those meals, leaving more than 25 million kids food insecure. Lauryn Bauer, a researcher at the Brooking Institute, found that 1 in 5 families say they do not have the resources to provide sufficient food to their children. This is even more intense for low-income, Black, and Hispanic families. Research shows that healthy students tend to experience better focus levels, higher rates of work completion, and higher test scores.

What do we do now?

COVID-19 is a deadly and highly contagious disease. Although the pandemic has caused so much to change for youth development, I know that we should do everything possible to protect those most vulnerable and help to slow the spread of coronavirus. So, how can we help youth and families cope with the troubles they are experiencing? What can we do to limit the physical, emotional, and mental health consequences that our nation’s youth are experiencing? How are we ensuring that the nation’s future leaders are not falling behind?

Through my research, I have found a slim amount of resources for youth. We need to do more to help youth navigate through the immense changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools are the exclusive provider of mental health services for 57% of K-12 youth, which has been severely limited in the past year. Children need support to cope with physical and emotional concerns, but school closures have severely limited available resources. We need to connect youth, families, and educators to available resources to help support academic growth, emotional and social skill development, and access to critical physical necessities.


Trans Women Of Color: Leaders of the Liberation Movement and Where We Go Next

An illustration for Trans Day of Remembrance, observed on November 20, by artist Ethan X. Parker.

An illustration for Trans Day of Remembrance, observed on November 20, by artist Ethan X. Parker.

Last summer marked the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall, an eventful rebellion that unified the LGBTQ+ community and sparked the Liberation Movement. Currently, millions are participating in peaceful protests across the globe in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The trans community has gathered in this moment to call to action for social justice for Black trans lives, which are disproportionately affected by racism and violence in our communities.  In 2019, there were 331 reported killings of trans and gender-diverse people. This past week, we lost Riah Milton and Dominique Fells, two Black trans women. Following both incidents, President Trump announced his repeal of an Obama-era policy, which protected trans people from being discriminated against in the health care system. The implications of denying trans people health care during a global pandemic translate the immense work that we as allies have ahead of us. As we celebrate Pride Month, it is imperative that we acknowledge the work of trans and gender nonconforming people of color that led us here, and the work left to do as professionals, parents, and allies.

Picture of Stormé DeLarverie

Stormé DeLarverie was a gay right’s activist, who began her career as an MC at the Jewel Box Revenue. Apart from her participation in the Stonewall rebellion, she was also part of the Stonewall’s Veterans Association, serving as Chief of Security, Ambassador, and later Vice President. Storme was a pronounced advocate against police violence and called to action the end of all violence against the queer community. 

Picture of Sylvia Rivera a Puerto Rican transgender activistSylvia Rivera was a Puerto Rican transgender activist and co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front. Sylvia protected trans youth experiencing homelessness through the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). Today Sylvia is commemorated through the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a non-profit that engages in policy and provides training and free legal services for transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming low-income people of color.

Picture of Marsha P. Johnson a Black trans woman and central leader in the gay liberation movement.Marsha P. Johnson was a Black transgender woman and central leader in the gay liberation movement. She was the founder of the STAR initiative, one of the country’s first safe spaces for transgender and homeless youth in New York City that provides shelter, clothing, and food. Marsha P. Johnson dedicated her life to advocating for housing rights, equality, and sexual liberation.

Black Lives Matter Protest

Left, Miguel Cruz,18, Tabor Bowman,17, Charlie Zucker,13, and Monica Cage,16, lead a group from Amherst Regional High school to Sweetser Park in the center of town as part of a Youth of BLM protest Friday, June 12, 2020.

Our leaders have done immense work to protect trans youth, and today across states, youth have been at the forefront of countless peaceful protests against police brutality and violence in Black communities. Our most vulnerable population of youth today are in fact those identifying as LGBTQ+, specifically Black trans youth.  72% of LGBTQ+ youth experience some form of violence and abuse, including child abuse, physical and sexual assault, and bullying, which increase their risk of suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress, self-harm, and suicide. In fact, 66% of Black LGBTQ+ youth report experiencing depressive moods, and more than half of trans or non-binary youth consider committing suicide, but only half of all Black trans youth receive psychological or emotional counseling. Discrimination in the medical health care system poses a threat to Black trans youth who may only just be beginning their journey to recovery.

While only making up 12% of the U.S population, Black people have made up 22% of all COVID-19 related deaths. Reports have indicated that the Black trans community is at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because of underlying health conditions, poverty, lack of health care coverage, and discrimination in the health care system. 1 in 5  transgender adults report being refused health care because they were transgender and over 50% reported that they had to teach health care providers about transgender care.

Picture of a Quote by Marsha that says "No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us"It has now been over 50 years since the Stonewall Rebellion and still, our transgender community is disproportionately represented in our homeless population and impoverished communities and continues to experience violence inside their homes, at school, and in the workplace. While our past leaders have done tremendous work to advance the lives of the trans community, there is so much work still left to be done. Perhaps the most notable learning opportunity that the BLM movement has presented is the need for all of us to acknowledge our biases and assumptions and how they contribute to anti-blackness.

As we enter into Pride Month, we are challenged again to consider how we benefit from heteronormative practices and systems, and how that affects our abilities to work with the trans community. As allies, it is crucial that we learn to support our trans community and raise the next generations to do the same. Here are some ways you can support the Black trans community today:

  1. Donate and Support to Black-Led Queer & Trans Organizations
  2. Show Up to Protests
  3. Stay Informed
  4. Continue to Educate Yourself
  5. Address and Challenge Anti-Transgender Violence

infographic on how to be an effective trans ally



Shelter in Place Order and What It Means During Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

In just a short month, states across the U.S. have been unsettled by the alarming rates of new COVID-19 cases being announced each day. While the majority of Americans are fighting this battle in isolation from the comfort of their homes, many are finding it difficult to escape the stress and anxiety of it all. Peaking rates of anxiety across households due to job loss, food insecurity, lack of health insurance, and overall fear, pose the largest threat to our most vulnerable populations. Child abuse and neglect rates are predicted to peak in the coming weeks due to higher stress levels in the home. According to Child Advocates, sexual abuse rates have disproportionally increased in minors under the age of 18 since the shelter-in-place order was established. In the midst of self-isolation, many of us may find it difficult to support those in need. Here are a couple of tools to pass along to parents and families who may be in need of support during these hard times:

Develop Supportive Communities

While keeping physical distance, it may be helpful to reach out to your community members at this time and lend your support. Offer any extra food to those who may be experiencing food insecurity, child care to parents in need of a sitter or those working from home who are struggling to also teach their school-aged children. In times of isolation, many people may be utterly alone, a simple phone call, letter, or video chat can make all the difference in someone’s day. Here are some of the ways communities are coming together while keeping physical distance:

Make Healthy Relationships With Your Family

Near or far, check on your family members. Call your loved ones and see how they are doing, how they are managing their stress, and if they need additional support. Social distancing has also impacted children who are currently being challenged by a new educational curriculum and technology. Take some time to talk to your children about how they may be feeling right now and find ways to help them continue connecting with friends, family, or teachers. In the home, try developing family-centered activities like a movie night, arts and crafts, cook or eat meals together, or simply share a space in the home where you can feel connectedness, even if you are all doing something different. In the current state, our human relationships outside of our homes have been strained by the absence of physical presence, make use of the time you have together and develop healthy bonds that extend past this pandemic. 

Feeding Your Family

During a pandemic as this, many families and households may be experiencing severe food insecurity. A poor diet and malnourishment increase the likelihood of illness and stress levels. If you or someone you know is currently lacking food, visit your local food bank to help feed your family. In addition, consider applying for Supplementary Food Programs like SNAP/CalFresh. For more information on supplemental food, programs visit here: https://www.getcalfresh.org

Managing Stress

Managing stress is most difficult when we are not even aware it is happening to us. The unfortunate truth about stress is that sometimes we may not be aware that we are feeling it. Stress acts in many ways including feeling irritated, angry, hopeless, worried all the time, having trouble sleeping, overeating, or even not eating at all. It is normal to be having these feelings. But here is what you can do to cope: 

Accept what you can’t do: trained professionals are currently working hard for us to stop the virus from spreading. If you are practicing health safety and staying at home, then you are doing your part and you are doing your best

Take care of your health: ensure that you are washing your hands and staying at home unless it is essential for you to leave your home. Make sure you are eating and drinking plenty of fluids. Exercise with home workouts, or play some of your favorite music and dance around your home. Most importantly, take care of your mental health. Take a moment throughout the day to take a deep breath, practice mindfulness and gratitude, and remind yourself that you are not alone in this.

Develop a supportive network: If the stress you are feeling is too overwhelming to address on your own, reach out for help. Reach out to friends, family, colleagues, or neighbors. There are trained professionals who are also available to support you in these times of need.

How to Help

If you suspect a child is in danger of abuse or neglect, please call the National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or visit childhelphotline.org for more information.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence, call 1-800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org for more information. 

These are difficult times, if you, or a friend or family member is expiring depression or considering harming themselves, call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more information.

COVID-19 has posed a huge threat to the wellbeing of our most vulnerable populations. At a time when many things seem uncertain, it is important to remember the significance of building communities and fortifying our relationships. It is together, that we can prevail in such unsettling times. 


They Love Me, They Love Me Not: A Look at Teen Dating Violence Signs and Prevention

teen dating violence awareness month logoValentine’s Day, arguably the most romantic holiday of the year, is fast approaching. As you prepare to share this day with your loved ones, take a moment to reflect on what being in a loving healthy relationship means to you. For some people, especially our youth, being in a relationship may be a completely new phenomenon. Join us in educating our youth on healthy relationship building as we increase awareness for intimate partner violence in teen dating and prepare for a future with less violence.

What is Teen Dating Violence?

Teen Dating Violence is a form of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) that occurs between two people in a relationship. IPV is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. According to the Centers for Disease and Control, Teen Dating Violence takes several forms:

  1. Physical Violence: when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or using another type of physical force.
  2. Sexual Violence: forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching, or a non-physical sexual event (e.g., sexting) when the partner does not or cannot consent.
  3. Psychological/Emotional Abuse: use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or to exert control over another person.
  4. Stalking: a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.

Facts on Teen Dating Violence

  • 1 in 11 female teens and 1 in 15 male high school students report having experienced physical dating violence in the last year.
  • About 1 in 9 females and 1 in 36 male high school students report having experienced sexual dating violence in the last year.
  • 26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their life first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 18. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report, victims of teen dating violence are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol and are at higher risk for victimization during college and throughout their lifetimes.

What Are the Signs of Teen Dating Violence?

A person experiencing IPV may have unexplainable recurrent injuries,  isolate themselves from friends and loved ones, but in most cases, there are no signs that may indicate that someone is experiencing IPV. For this reason, it’s crucial to be aware of the prevalence of domestic abuse. Discuss dating violence with your peers, and learn about ways to help.

How Can You Help a Teen Experiencing Dating Violence?

Talking about intimate partner violence may be the hardest thing a young teen may have to do. If you are experiencing teen dating violence or suspect that someone else is, here are some resources that may help. Remember, you are not alone and don’t be afraid to ask for help.



24/7 National U.S. Hotlines

Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474 (or text “loveis” to 22522, any time, 24/7/365)

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

Trevor Lifeline (for LGBTQ* youth): 1-866-488-7386

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233

National Hotline for Crime Victims: 1-855-484-2846

National Street Harassment Hotline: 1-855-897-5910

Flyer of February 18 online conversation with Jasmine Uribe from Break the Cycle.Take Action

We need to shift the narrative around dating violence, honor youth voices, build community, and address the intersections of violence. Please join our online conversation with Jasmine Uribe, the Chief Program Officer at Break The Cycle, on Tuesday, February 18, 4 PM PST / 7 PM EST. Together we can end dating violence. Click here to register now!


Supporting Migrant Children Part 2: Educators & Schools

students outside school standing togetherSchools play an important role in supporting migrant children as they integrate into their communities or navigate the challenges of growing up as children of migrant parents. Educators can provide a place for migrant children to feel safe, learn about their community, build friendships and connections, and discover their innate strengths. Schools can support parents through active inclusion, workshops, events, and other engagement opportunities. While these undertakings can seem daunting, this blog will provide ways that schools and educators can begin creating supportive, trauma-informed environments for migrant children and their families.

Every child’s experiences and needs are different, and support works best when it is tailored to each child. Thorough, individualized assessments at the beginning of the year can help teachers get to know each student and can provide insight into the creation of personalized learning and support. Educators need to be aware of the challenges each migrant child, both first- and second-generation, may be facing. Multiple variables contribute to a child’s integration and academic success; thus, areas to consider during an assessment in addition to academic level include language, psychosocial and familial challenges, past experiences, and cultural norms and values. Due to the likelihood of past trauma and complex issues, an assessment may best be done in conjunction with the school counselor if available. 

Diverse children and parents playingIn addition to focusing on the child, actively involving the parents is crucial to a student’s academic success. For recent arrivals, parenting in a new country can be confusing with unfamiliar school systems, norms, policies, values, and expectations. Educators can play an important role in a family’s integration into the community, benefiting both the parents and the students. To do so, extend an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere to the parents or guardians from the very beginning. Translate all documents, events, and communications. Create school-based workshops that incorporate things like English language and literacy development, information about the U.S. school system, how they can best support their children in school, their rights as members of the community, and how to access healthcare and other important services. 

While partnership from the beginning is good, it can take a while to build trust between the school and the parents. Building trust is important for helping families feel comfortable with social engagement and utilization of the information and workshops provided for them. Begin by educating the staff so they understand the cultural aspects involved with communication and resistance to engagement. By understanding where the families are coming from, you can show that you are partnering with them and are available to discuss any stigmas or fears that might be holding them back. You can show that you are on their side by ensuring confidentiality and protection from ICE raids, providing information on their rights, and asking them how they feel they can best be involved with the school. Trust goes both ways, so it is also important to actively listen and trust what the families are telling you. 

classmates sitting together workingAs students navigate the school environment, their peers can play a significant role in their progress and successful integration. Facilitate friendship and peer support through activities such as buddy systems, peer-to-peer language learning, and extra-curricular activities. These connections can help migrant children gain skills and confidence, and help all students learn the benefits of diverse perspectives and experiences. Mentorship programs with adults or older peers can also increase confidence, support, well-being, and positive learning outcomes. Creating an atmosphere of belonging at school is very important because a sense of belonging plays a strong role in how well children integrate or grow in their community. 

When working with migrant students, it is important to understand that they, especially first-generation migrants, have likely experienced a lot of trauma in their past – even school-related trauma. One example is that many children who migrate from Central America are afraid to attend school because schools were used as areas for gang recruitment. Past traumas and current psychological challenges both in and outside of school may lead to significant barriers in development and academic achievement. Consider providing school-based therapy tailored to migrant students. A recommended evidence-based intervention is Trauma Systems Therapy for Refugees (TST-R), which is designed to focus contextually on a child’s needs and environment both inside and outside of school. This holistic approach involves a clinician, cultural broker, and other providers tailored to the specific needs of a child and his or her family. 

With the understanding of migrant children’s unique experiences comes a responsibility to promote empathy and respect towards them and their families. Challenge the acceptance of any negative stereotypes that you come across both inside and outside of the classroom. Show respect for their culture and language; convey that it is valuable to retain and not just something to be replaced. Support proficiency in their first language as a skill, and provide opportunities for them to share their language and culture with their peers. 

In order to develop and maintain culturally competent support in and outside of the classroom, continuous staff training is essential. Professional development training should involve anyone who is part of the school, including bus drivers, substitute teachers, and cafeteria workers. Topics covered can include cultural sensitivity and basic language courses in the students’ first languages. Additionally, make sure that any translators involved with the school are proficient with vocabulary related to trauma and emotional and sexual abuse. 

Many schools across the country may have the desire to implement programs and initiatives like the ones outlined here, however, they simply do not have the resources to do so. Teachers report frustrations due to wanting to help but not being able to due to budget cuts. Everyone, including community members, is encouraged to advocate for increased funds and resources for educators and the school system. With the right initiatives and the resources to implement them, schools can be an invaluable resource for migrant children and their families. Let’s work together to help students achieve their full potential, accomplish their dreams, and live the successful lives that they deserve. 

Download the infographic below and keep it as a quick reference for the initiatives covered in this blog.

Infographic with initiatives


Supporting Migrant Children Part 1: Community Members

Children playing outside

Out of all of the children living in the United States, over 25% live with at least one migrant parent. These first- and second-generation migrant children make up a significant portion of our population, having made the journey to the U.S. themselves or being born to parents that did. As community members, we must create welcoming and supportive communities for children and families who have faced and continue to face impactful traumas and challenges.

Knowing where to start, however, can seem overwhelming. This blog will provide ways that any community member can become involved in welcoming, supporting, and empowering migrant children. As the following ideas are implemented, it is important to internalize an empathetic approach with a mindset of

I am here with you and let’s do this together; not I am here for you, to save you, or to make things better for you.

Additionally, think about what you can learn from your experiences with migrant children and families. A great thing about integration into a community or society is that it is a two-way process; it involves change experienced by migrants as well as change experienced by those already living in the society.

adult with child holding a heartOne of the simplest things that you can do is listen, support, and encourage. Children who have faced a lot of trauma often just need someone to listen. Be a friend, and offer support and encouragement. You can make them feel valued just by providing friendship and letting them know you have their backs. Provide them with any information they need, and make sure that they understand their rights and protections as members of the community. Remember that this is just as important for second-generation migrant children as well, as they try to fit in with their schools and society. They may still be suffering from different types of trauma, including transgenerational trauma from their parents’ experiences.

Migrant children and families often arrive without knowing about the service available to them, including mental health and healthcare, and do not know where to go to find this information. When possible, provide information and connect them with services available in the community. The culturally-driven and environmentally-created stigma surrounding some services, especially mental health services, may prevent families from reaching out and accessing the help that they need. You can work to build rapport and trust so that they feel comfortable utilizing the available services.

If you are a professional in an area that can assist migrant children and families, consider offering your services pro bono to eliminate the financial barrier of accessing needed assistance. Additionally, you can educate yourself on their culture and unique challenges to ensure that your services are culturally competent. Common services that are needed include healthcare, mental health, law, homeless, and translation services.

Children and families may also struggle to take advantage of services due to transportation challenges, especially in rural areas. Unaccompanied children particularly may need rides, including to places like immigration services and court hearings. Think about offering rides to those who need it. In addition to assisting them with where they need to go, it can provide opportunities to bond and make them feel valuable and welcome in the community.

father holding daughter handUnaccompanied minors that arrive in the country may have no one to take care of them and can end up in shelters or the foster care system. Even children who have relatives in the country may never live with them because many families fear that if they come forward to claim the child they will be deported. Additionally, children whose parents are suddenly deported can end up in the foster care system if no other arrangements have been made. Consider becoming a foster parent and providing stability and support for a migrant child. You can also assist migrant parents in creating a plan for childcare or custody in the event of deportation.

A lot of the misconceptions, stigma, and fear surrounding migrants come from a lack of knowledge and understanding. Educate yourself about the stories, trauma, and challenges of migrant children and then raise awareness of what you learn. Additionally, social interaction is one of the best ways to break down negative stereotypes and create trusting relationships. Encourage interaction and the use of trauma-informed approaches with migrant populations. By doing so we can create receptive, supportive communities that foster healing and smooth integration processes for migrant children and families. 

You can also support local and national organizations that are providing services for migrant children by either donating, volunteering, attending events, or raising awareness of causes. Use this link to access the Immigration Advocates Network directory and enter your zip code to find organizations that provide a variety of services in your area. 

And finally, connect with advocacy organizations and participate in their events and advocacy efforts. Migrant children need advocates and people on their side who will support their stories and their suffering and help them create a path forward towards a stable, fulfilling life.  

For more ways to support migrant children and families simply ask them what they need assistance with, or ask your local immigration center what else you can do. Together we can create communities that heal trauma, foster growth and development, and support the children of our future. 

Download the infographic below and keep it as a quick reference for the suggestions covered in this blog.

Infographic on how community members can support migrant children



Education Reform: Helping Maltreated Youth by Increasing Protective Factors in Schools

Students sitting around a table

Child maltreatment is associated with a disruption in early brain development and long-term consequences such as behavioral, physical, and mental health problems. Several studies have linked maltreatment to delinquency, and child maltreatment and delinquency to societal problems. Maltreated youth often become “crossover youth” or “dually involved,” which means that they become a part of multiple systems. About 92% of “crossover youth” are first involved in the child welfare system before the juvenile justice system. These youth are 47% more likely to engage in both nonviolent and violent delinquent and criminal behaviors in adolescence and young adulthood.

Maltreated youth experience risk factors in their home environments, and these risk factors increase the likelihood of children engaging in negative behaviors. However, there are “buffers” or protective factors that can help youth counteract these adverse circumstances. Protective factors are strengths and support that buffer against risk by reducing the impact of risk, changing the way the youth responds to it, and allowing the youth to succeed despite the risk. For both nonviolent and violent behaviors, a connection to school can be a strong protective factor for maltreated youth.

Children and ways to increase protective factorsHow Schools Can Increase Protective Factors

School, classroom environments, and experiences play a significant role in the surfacing and persistence of aggressive behaviors in students. A positive school climate is important in motivating students in the learning process. Furthermore, students who receive support from teachers and peers in school are more likely to partake in positive activities and exhibit positive behaviors. Supremely, our goal is to empower youth and increase their self-efficacy so that they feel enabled to succeed despite their circumstances. This can be achieved at school on both micro (individual) and mezzo (school and community) levels.

Daily Personal Interaction

Schools have the power through daily interaction to help children develop and strengthen protective factors and to help shape youth’s beliefs in their abilities to achieve. Teachers, coupled with a positive school climate, can promote resilience, achievement, coping skills, and overall self-efficacy by increasing the ability to manage healthy relationships and resist peer pressure. Some best practices for teachers include caring relationships with students. A teacher can foster caring relationships by:

  • Providing support, respect, and compassion
  • Maintaining high expectations that help students believe in their resilience and abilities
  • Challenging but supporting the students
  • Providing stern guidance while maintaining freedom in structure
  • Using strengths-focused and student-centered approaches
  • Contributing to reframing how students identify themselves and their circumstances

Allow children the opportunity to participate in their learning and engage in interactive group processes and activities that include reflection, dialogue, and critical thinking. Teachers should give children responsibilities in class and invite students to play a part in establishing classroom rules and curriculum. We can empower students in classrooms by encouraging creative expression, providing experiences and opportunities that play to their strengths, and inspiring service to others.

It is also particularly beneficial for teachers and school administrators to engage in trauma-informed practices. Because trauma can impact a child’s development, being trauma-informed requires that educators exemplify social-emotional skills in their actions. When a teacher develops caring and safe relationships infused with hope, this can teach kids how to build relationships and a foundation of trust and hope, which is important to resilience. An educator who has unconditional positive regard for each student can help students feel they are worthy of care regardless of their behavior or experiences. Furthermore, as an educator, try sharing what you are feeling instead of hiding your emotions, and invite the entire class to engage in a positive coping mechanism that you use.

School Climate, Community-Building and Beyond

By improving the curriculum, schools can incorporate mental health education and mandatory social workers and counselors on campus. Schools can implement programs, such as peer mediation programs, that improve school climate. Peer mediation programs are designed to increase the protective factors of social and emotional competence and decrease risk factors such as aggression and antisocial behavior. Implementing a peer mediation program or incorporating peer mediation in classes may include:

  • Teaching students to negotiate constructive resolutions to their conflicts
  • Teaching students to mediate constructive resolutions of their classmates’ conflicts
  • Creating a peer mediator selection process that involves selecting peer mediators and rotating these responsibilities among students, thus allowing every student the chance to serve.

Incorporating peer mediation can help youth gain skills like self-regulation, situation assessment, judgment-making, and decision-making to produce the desired outcome. Peer mediation can also help teach peacemaking and autonomy. These are skills that contribute to cognitive and social development.

Finally, investment in schools and ultimately communities, particularly in urban areas and minority communities with high numbers of risk factors, can bolster protective factors. If we know that childhood abuse is linked to adult interpersonal problems and psychological dysfunction, why not help youth while we can? If we do not help youth fight when they are young, we leave them vulnerable to becoming victims of their circumstances. Let’s address these issues at the root through education reform by instilling protective factors in school curriculums.


Supporting Refugee and Migrant Children

Picture of children

Families and children from across the world are escaping to our borders in the hopes of living in a country where they will be safe from harm and have opportunities for a successful future. These children and families are changing the landscape of immigration as we know it. In the past few years, the immigrant population has shifted dramatically at our southwest border from 90% single adult Mexican men to 60% families and unaccompanied alien children (UACs) from Central America.

Women with two children

Maritza Flores with her two daughters

The increasing anti-immigration rhetoric in the U.S. portrays immigrants as dangerous criminals, but gangs, drug trafficking, corruption, and weak national laws all contribute to the prolific violence that is sending families and children running for protection. Conditions are so bad that in 2016, Honduras and El Salvador even had the two highest rates of homicide in the entire world. Maritza Flores, who traveled to the U.S. border in 2018, said in an interview,

“Many people think we left because we are criminals. We’re not criminals – we’re people living in fear in our countries. All we want is a place where our children can run free – where they’re not afraid to go out to the shops.”

Children who leave their countries in the wake of trauma and make the long journey to the U.S. find themselves re-traumatized upon arrival at the border and at risk of severe mental health and development challenges. On the southern side of the border, metering practices at ports of entry have resulted in long wait times in dangerous, squalid refugee camps, prompting families and children to make the difficult decision whether to cross the river and enter illegally, or stay where they are for an indefinite amount of time, potentially endangering their lives. On the U.S. side of the border, however, conditions are barely better. If traveling as a family unit, children may be separated from their guardians. Additionally, UACs and accompanied children alike often find themselves in detention centers long past the legal limit of 72 hours, resulting in dangerous health environments and even death.

What Can We Do?

There is no easy fix to the immigration crisis; it will require a collaboration across borders to address the root causes in violent, war-torn countries in Central American as well as throughout the world. The voices of refugee children escaping violence in other parts of the world, including Africa and the Middle East, have been quieted at the moment due to less news coverage and stricter policies that prevent many from entering the U.S. and telling their stories. But we cannot forget them, and while we in our communities may not be able to solve the world’s crises, we can at least care for and support the world’s children.

We can support the children trying to reach our borders and support their well-being in every step of the immigration process. Importantly as well, we can help those who are beginning new lives in the U.S. as they navigate the challenges of integrating into our schools and communities. We need to protect and restore their mental health, give them the support they need to succeed, and eradicate hateful discrimination against them.

Advertisement for webinarThese children are our future. Everyone from community members to professionals to educators can help. Join us for our Alliance for Positive Youth Development Best Practices for Youth Conferences on August 5-7, as we discuss this issue further and learn best practices for supporting refugee and migrant children. The second day of workshops is devoted to this topic and includes an expert Q&A panel featuring Bhairavi Asher, Children’s Representation Project Managing Attorney at ImmDef, and Nicolas Hernandez, Organizing Director at RAICES Texas. Following this will be a presentation by Sarah Kim Pak, UCLA Public Service Fellow at the National Immigration Law Center. Register for free at ideas4youth.org/apydcon.



Education Reform: Redefining School Safety & Violence Prevention

Kid in front of a school gate

School shootings have become rising occurrences that have plagued American culture. In fact, school safety has been a growing issue around the world. About 150 million 13 to 15-year-old students worldwide have said they experience violence in the form of physical fights, bullying, physical punishment by teachers, or attacks on classrooms and campuses. This is an attack on our most vulnerable, yet most important population. Increasing safety means redefining what school safety and violence prevention mean.

One proposed response to school violence is increased security—armed teachers, school security, or police officers on campuses. Equipping teachers with guns, police with guns, and having more guns on campus is essentially fighting guns and violence with more guns and violence. While I understand that could be appropriate in very specific situations (e.g., when schools are under attack), there are negative implications of having armed authority on campuses. Teachers are often not adequately trained, and minorities often bear the brunt of punishment when armed authority is placed in schools. Minorities are more likely to be treated as adults and viewed as a threat. Accordingly, minorities are more likely to be involved in “in school” arrests or referred to law enforcement. Ultimately, research shows that there are increased risks to children when there is the presence of a gun, and we should do whatever we can to reduce this possibility.

An appropriate response to school safety and violence prevention may not be armed protection on campuses. Instead, a better response may be instilling mental health education and services in schools and changing the culture of the environment of schools. Looking at the problem as we have traditionally, elicits responses that typically reflect political agendas, false narratives, groupthink, and band-aid surface-level solutions. When kids are facing threats at school, it is a time to come together, think like social workers, and come up with real solutions that will create sustainable change.

Prioritizing Mental Health in Schools

School Social Worker PictureAn appropriate response to school safety and violence prevention should come from the consideration of big-picture thinking, systems analysis, and bio-psycho-social analysis. As a social worker, I advocate for looking at problems from a “systems” approach so that we can create effective and holistic solutions. This often requires redefining the “problem.” While school violence has been on the rise, youth mental health statistics have as well. In fact, mental health problems are a risk factor for school violence, though not the cause. This tells us that maybe school safety and violence prevention is a school climate problem.

Therefore, a more appropriate response to school violence may be paying more attention to incorporating mental health education in schools, teaching kids positive conflict resolution skills, and developing a positive conflict culture. We teach physical education in schools as a requirement a part of the curriculum. When are we going to prioritize mental health education and make it a part of the curriculum as well? Schools that have made this attempt have shown favorable results so far. School-based mental health programs have resulted in reduced anxiety, improved grades, lowered substance abuse rates, and reduced school bullying. Essentially, mental health education programs in schools can help prevent violence and create a positive learning environment.

Our focus should be empowering youth to make better decisions, improving relations, and creating the change we want. The solution is to invest in our youth. Instead of looking at “go-to” solutions and legal remedies, let’s try education reform—it’s the social work way.

Ready to Learn More?

For further discussion, join us for the Alliance for Positive Youth Development Conference (APYDCON) happening August 5-7, 2019. The first day of workshops will focus on School Safety and Improving School Climate. The first event will be an expert Q&A panel featuring Aaron Kupchik, Juvenile Justice/Sociology Professor at the University of Delaware, and Robert Hernandez, Senior Lecturer at USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work Dept of Children Youth and Families. Following this session will be a presentation by Andrea Vasquez, Co-Director of the Latinx, Afro-Latin-America, Abya Yala Education Network in Toronto, Canada. The panel and presentation will offer tangible solutions to help create safe school environments. Register for this free unique virtual conference at http://ideas4youth.org/apydcon.

Flyer of APYDCON 2019