About the Project

Beliefs, Values and Practices

Impact of Migration

Barriers and Support

Resource Centre

Research Report

Maintaining Effective Attachment Practices

In order to support and promote effective cross-cultural attachment practices in overall programming it is important to understand the barriers faced by immigrant and refugee mothers/families, and methods for addressing these barriers.

Immigrant and refugee mothers and families face many barriers to maintaining effective attachment practices. These include: a. their socioeconomic status, b. racism and discrimination, c. the lack of validation of their effective attachment practices, d. stress within their families, e. violence in intimate relationships, f. child abuse, g. lack of informal support, h. lack of awareness of formal support, i. discomfort seeking formal support.

There are many effective strategies for addressing these barriers, and providing support to immigrant and refugee families. The strategies are not mutually exclusive - they are complementary and more effective when they are applied comprehensively. Strategies developed out of the findings of this project fall into the broad categories of: a. providing a sense of home; b. outreach; c. creating inclusive environments and programs; and d. creating supportive environments and programs.

For most interviewees, informal support, that of families, extended family, neighbours and community is much more powerful and helpful than formal support. In addition they are often more
comfortable seeking informal support. Most of them, however, are here without their families, and close friends. And most of them have experienced and are experiencing the stress of migration and resettlement. There is a heightened need for formal support from agencies and programs to alleviate the burden felt by mothers and families, formal support that better replicates important features of informal support.

Support is needed for stressors related to the experience of migration and resettlement - counselling, job searching, sometimes just informal groups where women can socialize with each other and share problems and joys and start to replace the network that they've lost. Immigrant and refugee parents need support that respects and validates rather than criticizes their effective ways of parenting and promoting attachment with their children.

Agencies can address the needs of immigrant and refugee mothers, families, and communities by offering support to them in overcoming the great challenges inherent in promoting attachment within a different context from that in which they were raised, and learning from and building on the strengths apparent in a group that is upholding strong values, maintaining positive practices, and incorporating new ideas in promoting attachment with their children.

Support strategies should address the following major categories: a. Creating Inclusive Environments and Programs, b. Creating Supportive Environments, c. Providing a Sense of Home and d. Outreach.

  1. Barriers
  2. Support Strategies

Socioeconomic Status

Income and level of education are well known to have an impact on parental beliefs, values and practices. Often people of the same socioeconomic status from different countries have more in common than people of different socioeconomic status within the same country.

It is difficult to consider the impact of socioeconomic status of immigrants on attachment beliefs, values, and practices, because immigrants' level of education and income level do not necessarily correspond. Many of the mothers interviewed have some level of post-secondary education, yet are living below the poverty line.

Contrary to the expectation of a better life, immigrants and refugees often find that their socioeconomic status lowers dramatically when they arrive and for a number of years afterwards.

"I have been here for five years. I love here, the weather, the culture, everything. But we always think 'Maybe we should go back'. Yes, we always think about that. I think it comes with the obstacles that you find along the way. Especially if you have a profession back home. A good job and very good opportunities. And here, when you come, you realize, 'What am I doing here?' You have to start from the bottom again. That's the hardest part. And when the children come and you have to raise them, it's even harder. Because you have to deal with the children and with the difficulties that you are experiencing in your job."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

As a consequence, mothers talked about not being able to do some of the things they wanted to do with their children, not being able to buy their children what they wanted, and not being able to spend as much quality time with their children as they wanted. They face these challenges because of the lack of money, the need to work long hours, to look for work, or to spend time being re-trained and/or learn English.

"There are many, many things that I would like to do. My children see advertisements for things, and I can't afford to do them. There are 5 kids and 2 adults in my family. Even going out to dinner is too expensive."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

"I have no money for what they want. I have no money for fun. Of course it affects my relationship with my children! They're not happy. They don't study, don't want to go school because kids make fun of them for using second hand clothes."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

"My son needs more time than I can give him. All immigrants face the problem of lack of time. [I have to figure out] how to establish a strong relationship with my son in the relatively short time I have to spend with him."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

When mothers and families are poor to the extent that they have difficulty affording adequate food for their children, even such basic attachment practices as feeding their children are jeopardized. They may be unable to buy the ingredients for their children's favourite dishes, and thus can not demonstrate their love for their children by preparing their favourite dishes. Mothers try to explain their difficulties to their children and to compensate by demonstrating their love in other ways.

"We say 'We love you, but we don't have money to buy that for you.' I sing for my daughter, play with her, talk nicely to her. I tell her, 'When I study English and get a job, I will buy things for you.' I hug her and say 'I love you. I care about you but when I don't have money, please understand me.' "
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

They particularly regretted not being able to afford to go back to their countries of origin to see family and enable their children to develop relationships with their grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Their inability to go back to their countries of origin is often also related to their immigration status in Canada.

"All of my family is in Iraq. I miss my mother, father, and brother but can't afford to go back home to go see them."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

While many mothers face challenges due to poverty, immigrant and refugee mothers are in a particularly difficult position. Their qualifications and experience are not recognized in Canada but they cannot afford to study and get qualifications that are accepted, particularly if they are not eligible for government support because of their immigration status. The high cost of child care adds to the cost of women studying to get acceptable qualifications, especially if their partners are also in a position of needing to be re-trained before they can secure employment.

"My husband has finished his studies but he is not working. He applied for and tried to get work but he has not yet been successful. Because of the lack of relatives, of family, you can't really leave your children for childcare and go somewhere. Because of the cost of daycare, I can't go out and study and upgrade myself to work."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)


In addition to the challenges of living in poverty and the systemic discrimination inherent in the difficulty they face in obtaining jobs that match their qualifications, immigrants also discussed the more blatant discrimination and racism they face.

"Here you face racism in the workplace because you don't speak English very well, or because of your accent you don't get a job. Even though you are well qualified, maybe more than somebody else, but because you don't have the language, the perfect language, you don't get the chance. This is another way for you to struggle here."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

"At the beginning, the stress I had was that I had a two year old girl, and my husband was studying, and I had to look for a job. As a new immigrant, it was very hard for me to look for a job. Even though I got my degree in Canada, ...and I speak English, they said, they will hear my accent. At that time I don't know much about the system, the Canadian system."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

"People here are not friendly. And one thing, you know, what you call it, racism. It happens to me often."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

The racism they face also has an impact on their children. Children may see their parents, who are supposed to protect them and act as their role models, demoralized. From the parents' perspectives, it is extremely challenging to provide their children with a sense of security and self-esteem when they are being treated as less than human. Further, women interviewed clearly identified the fact that their children face racism and discrimination in school, and that when they or their children try to do something about it, they are not heard or validated.

"My son is being discriminated against in school. The teacher doesn't listen to my son. The teacher says 'It's your imagination. That doesn't exist here.' I say, 'No, that's what my child is saying. It's not my imagination.' My son fought with another child because of racist comments he made against him and the teacher kicked them out. Other children are hitting and bothering my son. I volunteer at the school so I see it. When I tell the teacher, she doesn't do anything. My child is scared to talk to the teacher. The teacher says to him, 'You don't have to tell your mother what is happening here. You tell me.' He says, 'I'm telling my mother because you don't believe me.' The teacher tells me to leave him alone to resolve his problems. I want the teacher to listen to my child."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Parents who immigrated to Canada at a young age talked about their experiences with racism as children, and the lack of support from their own parents who may not have experienced racism as children themselves. As a result their parents often did not know how to provide them with support when they experienced racism, and they in turn did not learn strategies for providing their children with support for experiences with racism.

"Canada is home but I still feel distant. We were the second Latin family in Alberta. It was hard in school to be accepted. There were always differences. It was a racial thing. I never questioned the actions of my mum. She was really firm with us. I didn't have an attachment to society. I was more affected by what she told us. I knew we were different from them. But [it is hard not to feel] acceptance. People don't see your abilities. My mother kept her challenges in integrating to herself. It would have helped if my mother talked about it. She told us to ignore it."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Lack of Validation of Effective
Attachment Practices

In addition to the challenges parents and families face due to poverty, racism, and discrimination, the lack of validation of their effective attachment practices in mainstream society can jeopardize newcommers' ability to maintain those practices. As their self-esteem is diminished, they may stop using effective attachment practices without replacing them with equivalet alternatives. This has a detrimental effect on their relationships with their children and threatens their children's secure attachment. This threat is particularly acute when children going through the pricess of migration and resettlement have a heightened need for their parents' responsive care.

"The approaches used in parenting programs are patronizing. They are about teaching rather than empowering us. Immigrants get instructions on how things should be without consideration of cultural factors. It is very destructive. It makes people believe they're doing something wrong and that their parents did something wrong. Newcomers are trying to accommodate giving up proven methods of bonding with their children. This creates a gap in building a relationship between parents and children. If parents don't manage to maintain a system of values within family, parents and children go their separate ways. It causes alienation. Children by their nature assimilate so they are accepted in the mainstream. They feel they are different in a way and are trying to change the patterns they find at home. This creates conflict. I myself fing it very difficult."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Stress Within the Family

"Children take on stress, whatever the source of stress for parents is...The sources of stress are different for parents, but the kids are the ones who take it anyway."

"We don't have parents and relatives to send children to when we are stressed. Our kids go through the stress that we go through."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

When a family migrates, a child may experience her/his own stress while at the same time their parent or caregiver is emotionally unavailable due to the stress of the process of migration and resettlement. When a child experiences too much stress or a relatively unavailable attachment figure, this can lead to an internal representation of the environment as dangerous and of the self and others as ineffective in moderating those dangers. This might make a child fearful of exploration, uncertain of availability of safety, doubtful of his/her ability to master environmental demands, and distrustful of significant others. These outcomes affect a child's development at all levels.

Violence against Women

Woman abuse is a terrifying reality for hundreds of thousands of women from all walks of life in Canada, and around the world. It is therefore not surprising that the issue of violence in their intimate relationships came up in our interviews with women, particularly when the stressful context of their lives is taken into account. While the ways in which women in a given culture deal with violence against them may differ, the fact that it exists is chillingly universal. Woman abuse exists in all cultural and socioeconomic and religious communities. All women face barriers to leaving their abusive partners. These barriers include fatigue from daily humiliation, shame that this is happening to them, concern over the fate of their children, lack of affordable housing or childcare, and unequal employment opportunities. Immigrant women also face additional barriers such as fear of police involvement because of racism in Canada or a history of persecution in their country of origin, fear of deportation, fear of the response of their community, and for some of them a belief that marriage is binding until death. The women who spoke with us emphasized these obstacles to making change and worried about the impact that abuse has had on their ability to parent.

"My oldest child remembers my husband being physically abusive. He is really afraid. He says, "I will protect you." I was concerned that this was affecting the children a lot, so I attended the COPE Parenting Program. I was conscious that I shouldn't scream at my kids but I still did it. The program helped. Sometimes I'm concerned that my kids are not growing up in a family with love and affection. I want the best for them."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Child Abuse

Child abuse is a difficult topic to broach because of how emotionally loaded it is. Yet most of the mothers and service providers interviewed brought it up during their interviews even though they were not directly asked about it. Many of them were frustrated by to the racism and systemic discrimination behind assumptions that abuse occurs in all immigrant and refugee families. Many of them are faced with children who threaten to call the authorities if they even tell them what to do and authorities who are more likely to jump to conclusions regarding child abuse because they are newcomers. Some of the parents interviewed did admit to coming from cultures where physical discipline is considered an acceptable way of raising children. They understand, however, that it is not considered acceptable in Canada, and would like to learn about alternatives.

For those women who spoke of violence in their adult relationships, their own negative experiences of early attachment in their families of origin often came up in the same conversations. They spoke of the cycle of violence that carried on from one generation to the next, and of their struggle, often without support, to break that cycle.

With all that said, it is critical to emphasize that children are a vulnerable group that needs protection. Child abuse jeopardizes the development of secure attachment during early childhood and thus has long-term effects on children's mental health. And child abuse is not exclusive to immigrant and refugee families - child abuse happens across cultures and is never acceptable. It always requires intervention but that intervention needs to incorporate consideration of families' cultural context and migration experience in order to be most effective. In addition to intervention, programs need to focus on prevention of child abuse, working within the complex context of immigrant and refugee families' lives.

Lack of Informal Support

As mentioned repeatedly throughout this toolkit, immigrants and refugees often have to deal with the many challenges facing them without the support of extended family, and community that they are accustomed to. Many of them have lost family and friends in wars, or have left them behind in their countries of origin. Many of their family members and friends are scattered all over the world, or live spread apart in Canada.

"Only my family can support me because I remember when I had my daughter, my family, my sister, my friends came to see me to help me.... It was very helpful to me. My sister, my friends came...I felt very good."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

"You have your extended family in your homeland but here you are by yourself. There, our extended family looks after our children. Here we have to get a babysitter, but we have no money."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Even when immigrant and refugee families are trying to establish another social network to replace the one that they have lost, they find it to be a difficult and lengthy process.

"Making a new start is difficult. We make only friends who speak the same language.Friends are an important factor. We want to know more friends here but we're scared. It is challenging as a mature adult to make friends in Canada. After a few years, you make friends, but it's not like at home where we have known our friends since children. Here we don't feel secure because we don't know people for that long, even people of the same culture/language."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Lack of Awaremess of
Formal Support

Mothers expressed a lack of knowledge of the programs and services available to them or how to gain access to them. Many of them have come from countries where such formal support programs and services are non-existent. Many of them did not need such services in their countries of origin, where they spoke the language and knew the system, and may not have faced challenges such as living in poverty and inability to find employment.

"There's one thing. People don't know much about MISA. I didn't hear about MISA...I didn't know about MISA until one day my friend told me 'I'm going to MISA.' I said, 'What are you doing in MISA?'. She told me 'I'm going to English classes. I didn't need English classes so I didn't go to MISA for one year. Later on I knew that MISA was good for many aspects. To get work, to know what is the country, to know the laws and the regulations, and to have resources, and to ...use my potential."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Discomfort Seeking
Formal Support

Even when newcomers are aware of formal support services available to them in Canada, many of them do not feel comfortable seeking formal support for 'family issues'.

The concept of counselling is often foreign to them as in their countries of origin, one does not go to 'strangers' to discuss personal matters and get support. In addition, women may be particularly uncomfortable seeking services to address their experiences of abuse.

"People at home don't look for people to talk about problems with. They talk to family and friends but won't go to someone who specializes in that."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

In addition, being accustomed to having family members and friends care for their children, many of them do not feel comfortable having strangers look after their children.

"You don't have to worry when you are at home with your family because your mother, your sister, your aunt is going to look after her. But here you have to leave your child with strangers. That is very difficult..."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Creating Inclusive
Environments & Programs

To support and promote effective cross-cultural attachment practices in your overall programming it is critical to create inclusive environments and programs. The following are some concrete suggestions:

  • Get to know the cultural backgrounds and languages most frequently
    spoken at home in the client population.

    Whenever staff positions become available, try to increase the variety of languages spoken on staff. Professional interpretation and translation services can fill in where there are gaps.

  • Provide culturally sensitive health information, resources, health promotion and health education and programming in a variety of languages.

    Beyond language, programming and program material needs to be culturally sensitive and inclusive of behaviours and contexts that would be relevant to many families from many places. Hiring of staff with understanding of different cultural backgrounds can also ensure that there is an understanding of different cultural frameworks, and thereby affect the nature of programming. These basic elements of accessibility need to be built into budgets and program design.

  • Encourage peer support and facilitate cross-cultural exchange in the design and delivery of parenting programs.

  • Encourage the co-facilitation of workshops and activities by members of both the dominant and non-dominant ethnic, racial, and cultural groups.

  • Build on parenting knowledge that families bring from their own cultural contexts.

While North American service providers work with particular models for child development which are sound and accepted in the West, parents come to North America from other parts of the world with strong cultural understandings of child development that have long histories to them. A two-way exchange of knowledge with parents can produce a mutual enrichment that ultimately benefits the child in question.

  • Make a special effort to celebrate differences and to transmit to those who are using services the need to welcome and share diverse attachment practices.

  • Facilitate group exercises, discussions and informational sessions to raise awareness and education on topics such as:
    • the meaning of parenting
    • the meaning of home
    • resettlement in a new society
    • intergenerational differences and similarities
    • raising children in Canada
    • the migration experience

  • Design program activities based on concepts parents used in our research, such as:
    • singing/reading practices
    • carrying practices
    • touch and showing affection
    • sleeping practices
    • listening practices
    • playing practices
    • teaching practice

Here are some concrete examples of activities:

  • Lap games, reading and singing lend themselves particularly well to cross-cultural attachment learning. Mothers are able to share songs and examples from their own cultures, while English or French language ones can be taught by the facilitator.
  • Ask women to bring in any items or pieces of cloth they use now (or have used in their countries of origin) to carry their young children. Have them demonstrate the use of these items to other program participants. In the project's testing of this activity it was very easy to organize and women spontaneously got involved. It spurred discussion of different carrying methods used in different countries and women were very interested in learning techniques from each other.
  • Ask women who have learned the practice of infant massage in their countries of origin to demonstrate the techniques they use to other program participants, and explain whether they use them to fulfill particular needs of their children. Encourage the group to discuss the benefits of the various techniques they have shared.
  • Provide materials that support and use examples from a variety of family groupings, including single parent families, and those where extended family play a significant role.

  • Provide free childcare and transportation for low-income families.

Free childcare may make the difference between whether parents and families living in poverty can access services or not. Whether services are located in a rural or urban setting, transportation is a critical factor to ensuring that families are able to fully participate in programs. For newcomers who settle initially in large urban settings, using the public transportation system can feel intimidating. Providing easy-to-use maps that provide clear, low level English directions is important. Maps that are available in languages spoken by newcomer communities are especially helpful if they are available or can be created. Accompanying individuals and/or groups of participants on local public transportation routes and identifying key places of interest can provide practical support. Programs that focus on reaching isolated families need to consider costs of transportation and allocating public transportation tickets as part of a budget. Ideally, having staff pay an initial visit to families' homes is an effective method of building trust and getting to know families. Accompanying parents to other health and social service agencies for their first visits can also be of crucial help as they adjust to life in a new country.

  • Train and hire staff and select volunteers from communities served, rather than relying solely on use of interpreters.

"My reason for being here is Changing Together. I volunteer here. People are willing to show you where everything is. There are no barriers. In other places, people ask, 'Does she know what she's doing?' Here, people are from all over."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

In order to provide a truly accessible health and social service environment it is essential to have staff who represent the cultural make-up of the community. Sometimes newcomers may not have Canadian experience or professional qualifications for health and social service disciplines. More often, their impressive qualifications and experience are not recognized and valued in Canada. It is critical that agencies put time, energy, and financial resources into equitable hiring practices.

  • Provide volunteer opportunities for program participants.

It is important to provide opportunities for immigrants and refugees to gain the necessary skills and experience to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Providing opportunities for parents to volunteer in order to build new skills and share their experience is as important as the services offered. Program participants can build on their experience as volunteers and seek positions where they can effectively serve their communities because of their intimate understanding of the experience of migration and resettlement.

"I'm working with the communities. I started taking parenting courses at drop-in-centres and I learned so many things from them, and then I decided to be involved in the community. So I've been taking different courses, for instance, Nobody's Perfect for facilitators.I took a training called Education on Prevention of Wife Assault, facilitating for Spanish-speaking people...You feel great when you can do something for the community. Because I can understand how they feel when they came here and they didn't have any support, and I've been through that already, so it's a good feeling when you can do that, but like I said, it's a process. When you're ready...you'll be able to help your friends and your family and your community."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

  • Establish anti-oppression policies applicable to staff, volunteers, and program participants.

If an organization or agency does not already have anti-oppression policies in place, work together as a staff group with volunteer and program participant input to develop policies that are uniquely suited to the organization. Use policies developed by other organizations as starting points.

  • Post anti-oppression statement in different languages and introduce it to program participants

Post a plain language version of the anti-oppression policy in English and other languages that are spoken in the community. Introduce the policy to program participants in all areas of programming from individual counselling to group workshops. When opportunities arise, gently remind and educate individuals about the policy and challenge perceptions, comments, expressions, or behaviours that may be discriminatory or prejudicial in nature. This helps to create a safe space for all staff, volunteers, and program participants.

Here is a concrete example of an opportunity to challenge comments:

  • If a racist rhyme that many of us learned in childhood is spoken, explore the history of its origin and the meaning it holds for many people who were discriminated against with its use. Encourage participants to find other ways of expressing what they are feeling and thinking that do not disparage, offend, or put down groups of people. Women may take home such discussions and share with their children their right to feel safe and secure in their skin, their homes, their communities, their cultural practices and their sexuality.
  • Incorporate anti-oppression check-ins into staff meetings.

At the beginning of each staff meeting, provide space for an 'anti-oppression check-in'. This allows all staff members to share incidents of discrimination they have experienced or witnessed within the work setting or the larger community. Staff members are given the opportunity to have their experiences heard and in addition become aware of the frequency and extent of discrimination that occurs. As the process evolves, staff may seek support or feedback from the group, and/or ask for suggestions on how to respond the next time a similar incident takes place.

  • Conduct anti-oppression workshops in house.

Have staff take turns delivering workshops to each other on particular forms of discrimination, such as racism, and homophobia. This can lead to the processing of past experiences of hurt as a result of discrimination and to much learning and growth amongst the staff group. In particular, important strategies for intervention when faced with discrimination may emerge. If the staff group prefers, consider hiring an outside facilitator for such workshops. After staff members have experienced them, consider offering similar workshops to volunteers and program participants.

  • Put a formal complaint protocol into place

Working towards an environment free of oppression is a process that takes a lot of time and hard work. Even for those who have done a lot of work in the area of anti-oppression and made a lot of progress, there is always more to learn and more to be done.

Ensure that a formal complaint protocol is in place for staff, volunteers and program participants to use if they have an experience within the organization that is not in line with the anti-oppression policy. Consider any such complaints as opportunities to redress oppressive experiences and learn how to prevent staff, volunteers or program participants from having similar experiences in the future.

Creating Supportive
Environments and Programs

It is critical to create supportive environments and programs by responding to the unique needs of program participants. It is important to provide emotional support and mental health related services within a cross-cultural framework, both at the individual and group levels. The following are some suggestions for ensuring supportive environments and programs.

  • Incorporate relaxation into programming.

Some mothers may just want a chance and some space to relax in order to deal with chronic stress, anxiety, pain, and trauma. Because women do not often get time to focus on themselves and time to care for themselves, teaching relaxation techniques in a safe space and providing childcare can be a critical part of programming. Such a relaxation group could also act as an entry point to services that newcomer women are not often comfortable seeking certain types of support (e.g. individual counselling).

  • Provide Parent Relief as part of core programming.

As mothers are most often the main caregivers of children, it is critical to provide child-care support in order that they may access health and social support services. Ensuring that free childcare is available to all families attending programs will help to make programs and services accessible to all parents.

Newcomer families often have no respite from their child-care responsibilities because of the lack of extended family or support base within their community. The provision of short-term parent relief that is flexible can offer parents an opportunity to take a break, do something good for themselves, attend a class, or visit a friend. Such support can make a large difference in the lives of newcomer families.

The nature of childcare offered, and the diversity of childcare staff employed are important issues because of the long-lasting impact of children's early experiences. In their countries of origin, parents can turn to other family and community members, other people with similar values, to share the role of caring for their children. It is important for parents to feel that there is at least some openness to their beliefs, values, and practices in an environment they are going to entrust with the care of their children. When children are cared for in a way that is consistent with the way they are cared for at home, they are more likely to feel secure. Hiring staff that reflects the diversity of the children being cared for is an effective way of providing culturally consistent care. It is important to follow this and other strategies suggested in this section within the child-care setting. For example, ensure that the environment and materials of a child care program reflect the diverse backgrounds of the children being cared for. This will give them the message that their diverse backgrounds and identities are valued.

Providing a Sense of Home

"Home is the basic unit of society. It is very important for the development of the family and the child."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Providing a welcoming environment where new immigrants and refugees feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging is critical in ensuring that programs are accessible and address the unique needs of parents and families who have lost their original homes and are struggling to find new ones. Here are some suggestions for providing a sense of home for program participants.

    • Provide a welcoming and safe environment.

    • Post a world map with "Where were you born?" written on it in many languages and ask program participants to mark their countries of birth with pins.

    • Post diverse artwork, posters and images on walls. Encourage program participants themselves to submit artwork done by them or their children.

    • Include extended family in programming.

    • Ask program participants to bring in or recommend music from their country of origin to play during drop-ins or other programs and celebrations.

    • Mark and or celebrate religious events and holidays in addition to those recognized by North American Christianity.

    • Use a multi-faith calendar and allow families to tell about their religious practice as a way of promoting understanding and creating multi-faith sacred space.


As many immigrant and refugee parents and families are unaware of the services available to them and/or are uncomfortable accessing formal support services, yet face a heightened need for formal support, outreach is an essential component of programming. Here are some suggestions for initiating outreach to communities:

  • Work with communities in the catchment area to ensure that they are aware of programs and services provided and that their participation in programs is encouraged and supported in any way possible. This may involve working in partnership with community leaders and/or ethnospecific agencies.

  • Ask community representatives what would facilitate the participation of their communities in programming and adapt programming to meet their needs if necessary.

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