Immigrant Family Reunification Program
Helping families come together during a difficult transition.
What is "reunification?"
There is a growing shift in the needs of many of our immigrant families. One-fifth of the nation's children are growing up in immigrant homes. The 2010 Census data reveals that 13 percent of the U.S. population is foreign born. Parents who have come to the United States in pursuit of a better life for their families may have had to leave their children in their native countries under the care of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and others. Legal and economic barriers often keep the families apart much longer than anticipated.
Upon reunifying in the United States, both parents and children can have completely different expectations. The children experience much stress and often find themselves with feelings of loss. They miss their home country and the loved ones who raised them. As they deal with that loss and other difficult adjustments, they may become disrespectful, hostile, or indifferent to their parents. Additional stressors include:
- Acclimating to their new environment where English is the main language.
- Spending more years in high school than their peers who are the same age.
- Not being able to attend college if they are here illegally.
The parents experience loss as well. Many years may have passed since they were together. They may not know their child as well as they once did. Parents may also struggle with issues regarding their involvement in their child's education. The degree to which the parents received formal education in their native country may impact their comfort in a school setting, which may inhibit their involvement in their child's education or their ability to assist the child with academics.
Immigrant Family Reunification Program (IFRP)
The Immigrant Family Reunification Program (IFRP) is one effort by Fairfax County Public Schools to identify immigrant students going through family reunification, and to invite their parents to participate in parenting education classes and take advantage of free resources such as Families Reunite , a nine-hour curriculum for parents reunifying with their children. The final class session includes the children. Parents and children complete activities together.
IFRP also offers a professional development workshop Immigrant Family Reunification: Promoting Student Academic Engagement, resources for schools, and a Train-the-Trainer opportunity for other jurisdictions wanting to offer the class.
Children migrate to the states for many reasons including:
- Lack of economic opportunity.
- Lack of, or inability to, access quality education.
- Refuge from violence.
- Wanting to join their parents.
Research indicates that children often face enormous struggles when reuniting with their parents. Their chances for school success—among other potentially positive outcomes—are significantly impacted, too. As a result, their parents find themselves dealing with unexpected behavioral issues brought on by their child's sense of hopelessness and anger.
FCPS is working to support the whole child, which includes supporting reunified families with their unique needs. Through professional development, parent education, parent-led support groups and student support groups, we can:
- Tap into the potential of the students.
- Help parents prevent and resolve conflicts.
- Ease the residual effects of any trauma that all may have experienced during their journey and separation.
Resources and Support for Families
- Parents can contact the social worker at their child's school for assistance with counseling, financial needs, or referrals to FCPS or community agencies.
- Family and School Partnerships offers the Parent Project® in both English and Spanish for parents of teens displaying harmful behaviors or having difficulty adjusting to their new home. This is a ten-session class that transitions into parent-led support groups. Parents leave the class feeling better equipped to parent their children.
- Families Reunite, a six-hour class for parents reunifying with their children.
- Most schools have a parent liaison whose job it is to help parents navigate the school system. Check with your school’s main office to learn your parent liaison’s name and contact information.
- Parent Information Phone Lines are offered to relatives of students in the Fairfax County Public Schools. General questions are answered or referrals to other offices or agencies given.
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