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Erin Harris from HFRP discusses the importance of out-of-school time programs for immigrant youth.

Immigrant youth in the United States face a unique set of social and academic challenges, to which several stress factors contribute:1

  1. Exclusion. Discrimination can ostracize and exclude immigrants from mainstream institutions. This exclusion often results in inadequate access to quality resources and needed services.
  2. Poverty. Settling in poor areas, as many immigrants initially do, leaves them vulnerable to problems associated with poverty.
  3. Separation and cultural dislocations. The immigration process frequently involves separating youth from other family members for extended periods. Separation can lead to unsettling transitions without the benefit of parental support. Even when families are not separated, immigrant parents often are unable to provide the level of support their children need to adjust to the new culture: parents are limited by their own unfamiliarity with American culture, and, often, language.
  4. Identity formation. Immigrant youth face the dual task of understanding their ethnic identity and reconciling it with their new American identity.

These factors can leave immigrant youth vulnerable to such risks as academic failure, delinquency, and low self-esteem.

The out-of-school time (OST) field is faced with the responsibility of providing special programs for immigrant youth and of creating sensitivity to immigrant issues in “mainstream” OST programs. A national survey of after school programs found that more than half served youth whose home language or first language was not English.2 In addition, a growing number of OST programs specifically target various immigrant populations and include a variety of activities and goals such as academic achievement, social development, and substance abuse/delinquency prevention. A frequently articulated program goal is helping youth, and often their parents, to transition into their new communities.

Some researchers have identified successful strategies for working with minorities. The following strategies are based on interviews with staff at after school programs serving predominantly ethnic and cultural minority populations in the California Bay Area:3

  1. Flexibility and responsiveness to the community’s specific cultural needs
  2. Hiring staff who share the same culture and language as participating youth
  3. Fostering awareness and appreciation of other cultures
  4. Providing special activities and supports for minority groups to help them feel included and welcome

Evaluations of OST programs serving immigrant youth can also help identify promising practices, as illustrated in the following two examples:

  • The Somali Community Services of Seattle Child Development Program provides after school and weekend tutoring and support to Somali children and their parents. An implementation evaluation of this program found that one of its main strengths, cited in interviews with staff, volunteers, parents, and children, was its cultural relevance and responsiveness to the Somali families it served.4

  • The Minnesota-based Hmong Youth Pride after school program provides tutoring and structured group activities (including Hmong language and cultural lessons) for Hmong youth, as well as support services for their parents. In addition to finding improvements in youth academic achievement and parent involvement, a five-year outcome evaluation also found that youth participants frequently expressed appreciation for the exposure to Hmong language and culture.5 Further, results showed a 23% increase in the percentage of participants who said they were very proud of their culture, compared to 10% of the comparison group, which consisted of their peers who did not participate.

With increasing policy emphasis on access and equity in OST activities, recognizing the needs of immigrants as separate from the needs of U.S.-born ethnic and racial minority youth has become critical. The experiences of immigrant youth are unique and must be treated as such, both by programs targeting immigrant youth specifically and by those targeting the general youth population. Research has suggested that programs that serve immigrant youth effectively are those that respond to the cultural needs of the populations served.

To learn more about evaluations of OST programs that serve immigrant youth, visit the HFRP Out-of-School Time Program Evaluation Database.

1 Roffman, J. G., Suárez-Orozco, C., & Rhodes, J. E. (2003). Facilitating positive development in immigrant youth: The role of mentors and community organizations. In F. A. Villarruel, D. F. Perkins, L. M. Borden, & J. G. Keith (Eds.), Community youth development: Programs, policies, and practices. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
2 California Tomorrow. (2003). Pursuing the promise: Addressing equity, access, and diversity in after school and youth programs. Oakland, CA: Author.
3 Wong, R., Go, C. G., & Murdoch, S. (2002). Best practices for outreach and retention of middle school youth in after-school programs. Davis: University of California Cooperative Extension.
4 Casey, B., Sullivan, M., & Roble, M. A. (2000). Evaluation report: Somali Community Services of Seattle Child Development Program. Seattle, WA: Seattle Partners for Healthy Communities.
5 Chase, R., & Clement, D. (2000). Hmong Youth Pride: Outcomes evaluation summary. St. Paul, MN: Wilder Research Center.

Erin Harris, Research Assistant, HFRP

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