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By: Diane M. Randolph, Director, Community Building Unit/ Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI)

There is a well-known African adage: It takes a village to raise a child. Seemingly this phrase hasn’t lost its accuracy.

The United States has consistently received an influx of new populations from nations where people have been displaced. In recent years, this refugee population swell has continued. Here in Massachusetts approximately 2,000 refugees  arrive annually, making the Commonwealth their home. Their places of origin vary greatly, from Burma to Somalia, Nepal, Haiti and many other countries. Many refugees come with small children and babies and can have the greatest needs of all: transitioning to a new physical, cultural and social environment, and doing so while raising growing families.

Refugees receive services under an umbrella of providers, so these families are nearly immediately connected to essential services. These services may include receiving referrals to agencies providing medical care, assistance for needy families, English language education and more. However, something the Massachusetts Office for Refugees (ORI) and the MA Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) are working to ensure there are opportunities to improve access to early education and care for refugee families. This is, a top priority for the following three reasons:

  1. Increased access to early education can improve lives.
    Research has indicated that the amount of time in a pre-school or other early learning environment directly correlates with an individual’s likelihood of attending and finishing college and can impact their lifetime earning potential, as well can affect an individual’s physical, mental or behavioral health outcomes. Access to early education also increases employment options for refugees, by ensuring safe and continuous care for children as parents work.
  2. 2.Increased Reach into Refugee Communities can Benefit Early Education Providers.Having access to training and structured forums where conversations can occur between child care providers and the refugee populations, can address cultural barriers both groups may face. By participating in such activities, staff and parents can feel confident about the care provided to children is as culturally responsive, appropriate and safe for all.
  3. Early Education is a Statewide Priority.In June 2008, Governor Deval Patrick and the Patrick Administration released the Education Action Agenda calling for cross-sector support to ensure “universal excellence” and access to education to all children in the state. The Administration has tasked all government agencies with fostering children’s development and to incorporate working with families to improve service delivery and coordination.

Given these opportunities, ORI and EEC are working to reduce the disparity of access to childcare services to refugee families. On April 1, 2012 the two agencies signed an agreement to support a project that does just that. Overall this partnership will Increase the knowledge and understanding of the unique needs of refugee families, provide cultural competency training to childcare providers with regard to refugee families and support “two-way” conversation between providers and the needs of refugee families.

The agencies look forward to increasing access to early education and care to refugee children in the Commonwealth, as, after all: it takes a village,  or in our case a partnership, to support the needs of our children. 

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