Supporting Children and Separated Families: Mindfulness in Immigration Evaluations

two children reading a book together

As mental health professionals, we have a critical role in supporting and evaluating immigrant families and children who may experience family separation. 

Immigration evaluations require a high sensitivity and cultural competence to ensure these vulnerable populations’ well-being and fair treatment. 

In this blog post, I want to explore the essential considerations when working with children – especially those who may become separated from their families, and what we can do to ensure we provide the most supportive care for these young clients.

Understanding the Context of Young Immigrant Children

According to the UNHCR, at the end of 2022, of the 108.4 million forcibly displaced people, an estimated 43.3 million (40 percent) are children below 18 years of age. Between 2018 and 2022, an average of 385,000 children were born as refugees per year. 

Immigrant families often face unique emotional and psychological challenges. The trauma of leaving their home country, the uncertainty of their future, and the potential separation from their loved ones can profoundly impact their mental well-being. 

As mental health professionals, it is essential to acknowledge and understand the context in which these individuals find themselves. This includes being familiar with relevant cultural, historical, and political factors that may influence their experiences and responses.

3 Key Things to Do

Working with young clients in the context of evaluations requires the same empathy, dedication, and care as any other client. The same set of resources, knowledge, and professional practices should always be applied, regardless of the age of those we assess.

A few of these practices become even more vital when working with young children. Below are the top three I recommend focusing on:

  1. Cultivate a Safe and Trusting Environment

Establishing a safe and trusting environment is paramount when working with children and immigrant families. 

Create a non-judgmental space where they feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions. Active listening, empathy, and validation of their experiences can help foster trust and rapport. 

Ensure that the evaluation process is transparent, clearly explaining the purpose and limitations of the assessment and obtaining informed consent.

  1. Utilize Culturally Responsive Assessment Tools

Employing culturally responsive assessment tools is crucial for accurate and comprehensive evaluations. 

These tools should be culturally sensitive, consider language barriers, and reflect the unique experiences of immigrant families. When selecting assessment measures, consider the individual’s cultural background, acculturation level, and previous trauma exposure. 

Engage with interpreters trained in mental health terminology to ensure accurate communication.

  1. Collaborate with Multidisciplinary Teams

Working collaboratively with multidisciplinary teams enhances the quality and effectiveness of immigration evaluations. 

Engage with professionals from diverse backgrounds, such as legal experts, teachers, and medical practitioners, to gain comprehensive insights and ensure holistic support for immigrant families and children. 

Sharing information and expertise can contribute to more accurate assessments and appropriate recommendations for their well-being.

3 Key Things Not to Do

As much as we must consider the key things we should do – we also need to reflect on the key things we mustn’t do. 

With young children, it’s easy to jump to conclusions; the following advice should help you consider your approach more deeply and focus on the individual in front of you:

  1. Avoid Making Assumptions or Stereotyping

It is vital to approach immigration evaluations without making assumptions or stereotypes based on cultural or ethnic backgrounds. 

Each individual’s experiences and responses are unique, and generalizations can perpetuate biases and undermine the accuracy of evaluations. Treat each case with an open mind, valuing their diverse backgrounds and identities.

  1. Refrain from Rushing the Evaluation Process

Immigration evaluations require thoroughness and a comprehensive understanding of the individual’s circumstances. Take your time with the assessment process, as it may lead to inaccurate conclusions or missed opportunities for support. 

Allocate sufficient time for interviews, observations, and validated assessment measures. Be patient and sensitive to the potential emotional impact that the evaluation may have on the individual.

  1. Do Not Minimize or Disregard Trauma

Immigrant families and children often carry the weight of traumatic experiences. It is crucial not to minimize or disregard their trauma. 

Validate their feelings, provide a safe space for them to share their stories, and acknowledge the impact of their experiences. Offer appropriate referrals for trauma-informed interventions and support services when necessary.

Supporting Young Children in Our Work: Offer a Little More Care

As mental health professionals, we significantly support immigrant families and children during immigration evaluations. 

One thing I think it’s also crucial to be aware of, especially when working with young children, is our own risk of vicarious trauma. I’ve written about this and what we can do to look after ourselves previously on the blog and encourage everyone to seek out guidance on this important issue.

Practicing mindfulness and following these guidelines ensures that our assessments are accurate, comprehensive, and sensitive to unique experiences and needs. 

Cultivating a safe and trusting environment, utilizing culturally responsive assessment tools, and collaborating with multidisciplinary teams are essential for practical evaluation. Let us embrace our role with compassion, empathy, and cultural humility, contributing to a more inclusive and supportive society for all.

By approaching these evaluations mindfully, we can create a more compassionate and inclusive society for these individuals.

Cecilia Racine: Immigration Evaluation Therapist

I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.

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