At the end of 2020, we implemented 2 projects relating to mental health for newcomers that built on some ongoing research we had been conducting at TIES:
These 2 projects were funded through the City of Calgary’s Change Can’t Wait initiative, which aims at supporting innovative new efforts and programming for Calgarians struggling with mental health and addiction. So apparently our 2 projects were amongst the 31 the city funded in two rounds. These 31 project will inform the development of the Community Action on Mental Health and Addiction Strategy.
Goal: To introduce information to better support children and youth who are providing interpretation and translation for family members into Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada.
Newcomer children and youth regularly assist their parents by translating and interpreting in situations such as medical appointments, understanding & applying for government benefits, and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding & applying public health guidance. The pandemic has taken an additional toll on newcomer families, as they must now make sense of a constant and overwhelming flow of information related to public health, benefits eligibility, changes to school system, community resource closures, social distancing protocols, etc. Due to physical closures of services they depend on, many of these families are left to navigate information on their own.
This is especially challenging for newcomer parents that do not have the language skills in English. Parents may not be able to visit a social services agency where they can access an interpreter and many essential services are now only available over the phone or email. Access to technology is also dependent on English skills.With the move to home schooling, newcomer children will be required to act as intermediaries over video conferencing with teachers and school staff when parents cannot communicate.
Acting as an intermediary has already been proven to have negative effects on newcomer children and youth, as they can be exposed to difficult or age-inappropriate information and can be subject to added stress and anxiety as they adopt an adult-level role (see references attached). If children are required to relay information that is too complex for their age, the family might compound the pressure, stress and anxiety already burdening these youths. In addition they may miss important resources and benefits essential during the phases of the pandemic.
The proposed service will develop capacity at TIES and newcomer-serving agencies to provide support minimizing the negative psychological impacts newcomer youth may experience from the interpreting and translating requested of them. Specifically, through this grant, we will deploy 2 interventions that can be delivered both in-person and online:
Intervention 1) a LINC-based module that will provide skills to newcomer parents who rely on their children for interpretation and translation skills to:
The module will be deployed in LINC classes at TIES, to newcomers at CFS, and subsequently shared with other LINC providers in Calgary to benefit a larger number of newcomer families in the future.
Intervention 2) will involve the development of a Settlement Practitioner’s Toolkit that provides approaches for front-line non-teaching settlement workers to:
Toolkit knowledgeable staff will provide an added layer of support for newcomer clients who have attended the LINC module.
These 2 interventions will be monitored and evaluated by project staff to provide data on how to continuously improve the interventions, as well as address any gaps that emerge from the pilot.
Goal: To infuse strengths-based, emotional wellness pedagogy into the teaching, classroom management and lesson planning at settlement agencies.
Factors that affect newcomer mental and emotional wellness include environments and circumstances they face in the first years after they arrive. While settlement agencies provide needed programming that enhance language and employment skills and knowledge newcomers need to ‘integrate’ to their new communities, the overall experience of change and the pressure to meet expectations in careers, language, family can weigh heavily on their mental and emotional wellness. The global pandemic has exacerbated these circumstances exponentially, as newcomers must additionally try to understand and act upon changing state-mandated policies, an evolving pandemic situation that is complex and potentially life threatening, all of which have serious negative implications for their social and economic integration.
This project builds on two years of research and inquiry by the TIES and the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Nursing conducted at settlement agencies in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg in 2018-2019. The proposed pilot applies new knowledge gained and aims to infuse cultural safety and strengths-based, solutions-focused pedagogy and approaches into the teaching, classroom management, and lesson planning in LINC classes.This pedagogical paradigm shift focuses on utilizing classroom management and teaching to establish cultural safety and address factors that create anxiety and stress in the settlement context such as dealing with rapid and overwhelming change and uncomfortable questions of identity. The pedagogy and approaches also aims to overcome barriers to acquiring help for mental and emotional wellness such as entrenched attitudes and stigma.
Our research has revealed that teachers often feel out of their depth when addressing their students’ reactions to anxiety and stress. A pedagogy-focused intervention equips teachers with a repertoire to prevent and address such issues while at the same time staying within a familiar and comfortable scope of practice for them, addressing their own anxiety and mental wellness. Teachers have credibility with and possess the trust of newcomer students, who interact with them on a daily basis and turn to them as their primary guide to their first Canadian experiences. This project taps into this credibility and trust to deliver key messages and attitudes about mental and emotional wellness.
The project will introduce a select group of 30 teachers in the new pedagogical approach through a 3 day workshop. This will be followed by a guided implementation of the approaches in their classes over the next six weeks, supported by a Subject Matter Expert (SME) from the University of Calgary. This pilot will involve delivery to approximately 300 newcomer students and will yield data about its impact and effectiveness, informing the overall approach on its viability to proceed more broadly.
Settlement agencies have already sought to enhance staff capacity to support client mental health. However, these have often focused on incorporating trauma-informed practices & the hiring of professional counsellors. While these ‘add-on’ interventions are indeed helpful, the focus on teaching practice is unique and strategic, with the teacher as key determiner of settlement experiences. It is as such preventative and focused on conditions that exacerbate or produce mental&emotional stress. Other approaches rely on less familiar individuals to deliver key messaging and information, ignoring the key role of a trusted individual. The trusted teacher is more effective at addressing key barriers newcomers face such as stigma. Comparable approaches have been implemented in other educational contexts (primarily elementary education in Australia), but has not been tested in settlement agency contexts.This project can lay the foundation for more positive approaches within settlement agencies toward empowering newcomers to overcome many common emotional and mental wellness issues they experience.
Contact us to aid you through the process of registering for the program right for you.
The Immigrant Education Society (TIES) is located on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot and the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, which includes the Siksika, the Piikuni, the Kainai, the Tsuut’ina and the Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nation. The City of Calgary is also home to the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region III.