From Warzone to Godzone: Towards a new Model of Communication and collaboration Between schools and Refugee families.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Somalia has undergone a prolonged period of civil war, lawlessness and turmoil, which has resulted in many people becoming displaced, and a number of those displaced people have migrated to New Zealand as refugees. This thesis is a study of communication and collaboration between Somali refugee families and their children’s schools in Christchurch, New Zealand in the light of their experiences pre and post-resettlement in New Zealand. This was to take into account recommendations of the UNHCR Handbook for best practice. Informed by interviews with 40 Somali parents, 15 Somali secondary students, two school principals, and 15 teachers, the thesis examines collaboration with schools in the context of the families’ experiences in their home country, the flight process, the refugee camps and the migration and resettlement in New Zealand. Data were gathered using questionnaires, individual interviews, focus groups, observation, and document analysis, and subjected to a qualitative analysis. The study revealed a remarkable degree of heterogeneity among Somali refugee families who have been settling in Christchurch over fourteen years. Many diverse factors were identified such as gender, previous socio-economic status, urban versus rural origins, level of English language, poverty, employable work skills, and refugee experiences such as the level of trauma, all of which have impacted on the capacity of individuals and families to adjust during their resettlement. Many refugees were identified as having undergone major trauma during the civil war and refugee flight process. These experiences have affected the integration of many into their new society, but this study found that those with the greatest apparent level of recognised need and vulnerability were those with the poorest communication skill. This resulted in their having a poor relationship with schools and left them quite alienated. For many such families the only interface with their local school was being summoned to discuss the infractions of their children and any subsequent disciplinary measures. Therefore, one of the greatest needs to improve communication and collaboration was identified as the ability to learn the English language. Other barriers to successful communication and collaboration included issues associated with racism, cultural awareness, teacher workload, lack of acknowledgement of refugees’ special needs in school policies, teachers’ low expectations of refugee parents, intimidating school environments, ambiguous information, the Somali oral culture, parents’ financial hardship, parents’ lack of transport, parents’ workload, inadequate housing and the families’ high mobility. There are currently neither national policies nor adequate resources to facilitate refugees improving their English language skills, nor to support schools in other aspects of their communication and collaboration with refugee families, and this study suggests that the absence of guidelines and resourcing is another key factor behind the poor engagement between the families and schools. Schools and their teachers also need good professional development that takes account of the diverse needs of these families in order to help build and strengthen better working relationships with refugee families. The thesis goes on to discuss the current models of parent-school collaboration, and it concludes by presenting a proposed new empowerment model of parent-school collaboration which is tailored to help support refugee families. Key tenets of the proposed new model are that there must be principals who provide committed leadership and support, by meeting and welcoming parents when children are enrolled, providing follow-up meetings after enrolment, and developing structures, policies and guidelines to promote parent-school collaboration. They need to provide adequate resources to educate school personnel and mainstream parents about the refugees’ culture and experiences, and a designate a co-ordinator with responsibility for creating an inclusive environment with positive ethnic relations, while conducting monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of these measures on communication and collaboration. The model also suggests that there should be greater inter-agency co-ordination and co-operation between the schools and organisations such as health services, social services, WINZ, NZIS and the Police. Implementing the proposed model would build on existing social capital to result in adults and children who are more actively involved not only in education, but also in health care and social and recreational activities where the school is the hub for empowering those families which are most at risk.