Agency helps refugee children adjust to new life

Clients of JVS

Refugee families and their children can have a difficult time adjusting to life in Kansas City. They have to learn to speak English, adjust to a very different environment, learn new cultural norms, and make new friends. For youth, this often leaves them caught between the traditional ways of their parents and the modern, American lifestyle of their peers. As children typically learn English faster than their parents, they are frequently parentified and called upon to help parents navigate medical appointments, paying bills, talking with landlords or employers and other issues normally dealt with by adults.

In addition to those adjustment issues, refugee youth have often experienced trauma from their migration experience and years in the refugee camps, which leads to an increased prevalence of depression and anxiety. They are also frequent targets of bullying in school, as their language, religion and culture differs dramatically from their American-born peers. Many refugee students enrolled in Kansas City Public School have never had the opportunity to attend school prior to arriving in the United States and face challenges in adapting to the school setting.

Refugee parents are incredibly challenged in supporting their children due to their lack of understanding of U.S. school systems and its accompanying culture. They often do not understand that all children in the United States have a right, and an expectation, to attend school. Parents often take children out of school to watch siblings or accompany parents to appointments as the interpreter.

Parents of children with physical, emotional or learning problems are not aware of the services available to them or how to access them. They assume that their children will have those special needs with no possibility for support or improvement. They are unfamiliar with behavioral expectations of children at school and the consequences for breaking the rules. For example, a Burmese child who was a bamboo cutter in the camp was accustomed to always carrying his knife with him. He viewed it as a tool and part of his identity, not a weapon. He and his parents were unaware that knives were prohibited at school and he faced expulsion when it was discovered. Through the advocacy provided by the social work department at JVS the school and family were able to avoid expulsion and increase overall communication.

JVS provides case management and therapy services that directly address the needs of youth and their families. Case management services provide students and their family with a dedicated social worker who assess their mental health and create service plans with the family to increase the families overall functioning. Together, the family and social worker determine what the challenges are, what solutions are possible and then work together to address the challenges.

To learn more about refugee resettlement and Jewish Vocational Services, upcoming events, or to get involved, visit our website at

If you have any questions, please contact social work manager Sarah Cirese-Payton, LMSW at

Please read more about JVS.


Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006