AMSSA: Guiding Principles for Providing Services to Immigrant and Refugee Children

In the AMSSA video, Guiding Principles for Providing Services to Immigrant and Refugee Children in BC, Emily Mlieczko, Executive Director of the Early Childhood Educators of BC, outlines key points for addressing needs for immigrant and refugee children and beginning the process of integration into Canadian society. She notes that early childhood educators are often one of the first contacts for immigrant and refugee children as they begin their life in their new country.  The child development knowledge of early childhood educators assists them in supporting families with integration. They can also serve as a key connector for accessing necessary supports from within the wider community.

Principle 1:  To promote the health and wellbeing of all children

Promoting the health and wellbeing of children, and thus of their families, is one of the base ethical principles in early childhood education.  ECE programs are designed so that children will feel safe, secure and supported.  This involves learning about the child’s previous experiences and cultural background.

Early childhood educators have the capacity to demonstrate that they care about the child, about his/her unique experience, and that they care about the child’s family.  They have skills to build rapport and make the child feel safe in the new environment.

Principle 2:  Use of developmentally appropriate practices when working with all children

 This comes down to knowing that there are cultural and environmental differences when working with children.  For example, some cultures may respect and honour an academic-based early childhood emphasis, whereas many BC and Canadian early childhood programs work from a play-centred approach to early childhood development.  This provides a great opportunity for knowledge transfer where ECE professionals can explain the research basis for this educational approach.

There is opportunity for educators to do cultural research in order to better understand the family context and to be able to describe and explain what to expect in a play-based program.  The application process offers opportunity to ask questions that help in building a picture of the child’s cultural context and background experiences.  Using a translator can also help in establishing these communication links with the family, for example, so that educators can bring in some things for the child that are familiar to them from their home country.  This also offers opportunity to engage with other children in the program, both to share stories about items that are meaningful in their lives and to learn more about the cultural context of the new child in the group.

Principle 3:  Demonstrate caring for all children in all aspects of their practice

Programs are developed so that they are able to be responsive to each individual child.  An example of this might be with a child who is not verbal or who does not yet speak the primary communication language used within the program.  Educators may ask parents to provide pictures or drawings for use in communication with the child until they are ready to communicate in the primary communication language.

Principle 4:  Work in partnership with families and supporting them in meeting their responsibilities to their children

The role of early childhood educators is to complement and support families in the development of their children, not to take away their responsibilities.  Parents have the right to transmit their own values, beliefs and cultural heritage to their children and it is up to educators to be able to support that through their processes.  As educators build relationships of trust with immigrant families, they can become modelers and interpreters of Canadian culture, and often become the ‘go-to’ reference point for questions about Canadian life.

Principle 5:  Work in partnership with colleagues and other service providers in the community

Educators can become a central point in developing a network of community supports for the child and for their family.  It is essential for early childhood educators to build a strong resource list of supports, both at the community and provincial levels, to draw on as needed for newcomer families as they transition into the community.

Principle 6:  Work in ways that enhance human dignity

This means that educators need to have respect for diversity. They need to understand their own value and belief systems so as to be open and transparent when working with children and families that might have values and beliefs that are in conflict with their own.

Principle 7:  Pursue the knowledge, skills and self-awareness to be professionally competent

Early childhood educators need to continually reassess and build new competencies and be open to new experiences.  Research on child development continues to evolve our understanding of the young child.  It is also important to be attuned to and engaged with changing family dynamics, and to be responsive to the impacts of these on the child.  The situation of refugee families in the early stages of entry into the new country can be changing on a daily basis, with changes in living accommodation, training and employment, and birth of new children.  For educators to be responsive, they need to be continuing their professional development on an ongoing basis.  There are multiple opportunities for ongoing training in BC.  Westcoast Childcare Resources also offers an extensive resource library available to educators.

Principle 8:  Demonstrate integrity in all professional relationships

Early childhood educators have a responsibility to maintain integrity and consistency, and should meet regularly as a group to establish guiding principles to use as a baseline for discussions with families when areas of conflict arise.  Training opportunities are available for early childhood educators who are working with immigrant families in their programs.