How well is Massachusetts reaching out to the nearly 481,000 immigrant parents who live in the state? The MIRA Coalition did a study to find out.
“The barriers faced by immigrant parents have been particularly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, as families have struggled to maintain access to state-sponsored early childhood programs, K-12 schools, community-based organizations and various social services,” MIRA says in a new report summarizing its findings.
“As remote learning requirements have forced parents to provide supplemental instruction and monitoring for online learning, parents who are limited-English proficient (LEP) have lower levels of education or digital literacy, have faced disproportionate challenges.”
The research focused on families in the cities of Lawrence, Brockton, Everett, Springfield, and Worcester. And researchers interviewed 80 service providers and policy experts.
Among the findings:
• transportation and child care continue to be barriers
• to engage families, it’s important to have culturally and linguistically appropriate services
• building trust requires more than communicating with parents in their native language
• closing the digital divide is essential, and
• one-size-fits-all public policies and approaches to parent engagement are not always inclusive of immigrant parents
The report also points to promising practices, including:
• school-family home visiting programs
• hiring a trilingual technology coach to bridge the digital divide
• employing “staff and educators who are bicultural and bilingual and either understand or take time to educate themselves on culture, sociopolitical history, and current conditions for immigrant families in their community”, and
• “In Worcester, a program draws in families with a theater program that introduces them to the community and then uses a photovoice project – a creative research method combining photography and group dialogue – to help familiarize them with services in the community.”
“There are no quick fixes for the structural barriers that have prevented parents’ participation for so many years, but there are ways to ease immediate challenges,” the report explains. Among the recommendations are:
• expand virtual programming to compensate for gaps in public transportation, and promote future investments to expand the transportation system
• expand access to “high-quality, accessible child care in collaboration with those who are already deeply engaged and experienced with providing services to the community,” and in increase funding for early childhood programs, including home visiting, early literacy programs, and playgroups where families can socialize and learn new parenting skills
• promote “language justice” by ensuring that materials and events are translated in multiple languages, and
• expand partnerships with English as a Second Language (ESOL) programs. “Community institutions that immigrant families already frequent or see as a local resource, such as museums and local businesses, can play an important role in ensuring that their communities are aware of ESOL classes and other parent-focused programs.” Parents also suggested that ESOL programs add “a curriculum that could serve as an introduction to the community and local services, such as school and city transportation”
There is also much more outreach to be done. As the report concludes:
“… to truly understand the needs of immigrant families, it is imperative that we speak directly with them. Such work will require outreach not only to parents who are currently accessing services, but – perhaps more importantly – to families facing barriers so great that they are not participating in available programming at all. This outreach will require further investment to obtain honest and constructive feedback that can shape advocacy and policy responses.”