Refugee and Immigrant Children Committee

Refugee and Immigrant Children Committee


Illinois Childhood Trauma Coalition’s Committee on Refugee and Immigrant Children and Trauma (RIC) was founded in 2015 to address the critical, unique and growing needs of children and families from refugee and immigrant communities.


RIC seeks to build upon ICTC’s general resources and communications regarding childhood trauma to encompass the unique experiences and needs of immigrant and refugee children and families. RIC is charged with exploring ways to use the ICTC’s current resources to (1) raise public awareness of how trauma can impact immigrant and refugee children; (2) develop the workforce necessary to meet the unique needs of these communities; and (3) assist agencies in building the capacity to help immigrant and refugee families that may have experienced traumatic events.

We engage in ongoing dialogue with members to promote appropriate care and implementation of best practices in the community when serving this population. RIC aims to develop and provide support to refugee/immigrant children and families directly as well as to agencies and professionals engaged with refugee and immigrant children and youth experiencing trauma prior to, during, and/or following their journey to the United States. RIC seeks to learn from and honor the voices and lived experiences of the immigrant and refugee population.


Professional Training Resources for Working with Refugee and Immigrant Communities Directory


RIC is comprised of a broad spectrum of volunteers from different disciplines and organizations working with immigrants and refugees, including schools, universities, health centers, faith-based organizations, and advocacy/policy organizations, among others. RIC is co-chaired by Rebecca Ford-Paz, PhD, a psychologist from Lurie Children’s Center for Childhood Resilience, and Willis Francis, LCPC, from Heartland Alliance, a local leader in serving immigrant and refugee children and families.


Public Awareness – Raise awareness among health and mental health providers, teaching and legal communities, as well as the general public, about the impact of trauma on the lives of immigrant and refugee children and youth.

Advocacy & Public Policy – Inform front-line service providers of public policy issues affecting refugee/immigrant children and families and engage RIC members in opportunities to advocate for policy change that will prevent and mitigate traumatic experiences for immigrant and refugee children.

Workforce Development – Develop and disseminate trainings to multidisciplinary practitioners who are providing support and services to refugee and immigrant children and youth.


Immigration and Trauma

Refugee/immigrant children can experience traumatic stressors at various points of the immigration journey, such as preflight, flight, and post-flight. Preflight trauma refers to the events and conditions that children are exposed to in their countries of origin that often precipitate fleeing from their countries of origin.  Examples of preflight trauma can include violence; war and persecution; lack of food, water or shelter; forced labor; and disruption in or lack of access to schooling.

Trauma is also experienced during flight from home country to new country. Flight may differ in its duration and circumstances for different individuals. For instance, a child of undocumented status may have to travel in life threatening conditions for months to the United States; whereas a refugee child may be displaced in a refugee camp for years before being permanently resettled in a new country.  While the journey may look different, many refugee and immigrant children often experience similar types of trauma during their journey, including separation from family, mistreatment by authorities, and detention.

Finally, traumatic experiences can occur in the post-flight or resettlement phase once the individual has arrived to the new country. Examples of post-flight traumatic stressors can include: exposure to community violence, discrimination and hate crimes, loss of familiar community and community supports, acculturation stressors, fear of deportation, and financial hardship. Even children of immigrants and US-born children living in mixed status families can experience toxic stress related to chronic stressors related to daily fears loved ones being deported. Families that experience extended parent-child separation during the migration process are often faced with reunification challenges, such as disrupted parent-child attachment, child’s limited understanding of the reason for separation fueling feelings of anger and abandonment, and parenting difficulties.

Serving Immigrant and Refugee Children and Youth in Illinois

Needs Assessment. In 2016, RIC conducted a survey to assess service needs in refugee/immigrant communities in Illinois and inform workforce development and system-wide capacity building activities that would enhance trauma-informed care for all those who come in contact with refugee/immigrant children. Two separate surveys were sent to providers. The first targeted providers from agencies whose mission is specifically aimed at serving refugee and immigrant youth and families, and the second targeted those whose agencies serve the general population and would likely have some contact with refugee/immigrant children, youth and families. Participants included service providers in the sectors of mental health, legal aid, housing, education, employment, medical care, spiritual guidance, domestic violence, and case management.

The findings of the surveys showed the following:

* Mental health services were the most frequently identified unmet need impacting the clients served by respondents (both in their agency and in the community).

* Training in cultural responsiveness when working with immigrant/refugee children and families and in trauma-informed practices were identified as critical needs.

Cross-Task Force Collaboration on Curriculum Development.

Through partnering with the Coalition for Immigrant Mental Health and the Refugee Mental Health Task Force, RIC members contributed resources and training materials towards a participatory curriculum development effort that built off of existing ICTC workforce development materials on the impact of trauma on children generally. This multidisciplinary collaborative effort included mental health professionals, academic researchers, educators, community advocates, refugee/immigrant youth, and allies working with refugee/immigrant children and families. The curriculum development work group gathered existing materials and created new content for a public health response to mounting distress of refugee/immigrant children and families in the socio-political climate. Material for workforce development trainings was developed through an iterative feedback process. Youth of undocumented status and refugee youth provided feedback via focus groups regarding training content, as well as and strategies that adults could employ to help children and families feel welcome and safe, to succeed, and to improve their wellbeing.


Alien” a legal term used to refer to any person not a citizen or national of the United States (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)

Asylum seeker – someone who flees their own country and seeks sanctuary in another country and applies for refugee/asylum status upon arrival to the new country. This person must demonstrate that his or her fear of persecution in his/her home country is well-founded. S/he may enter the country as students, tourists, businessmen, or even in undocumented status.

Children of Immigrants: Children under 18 with at least one immigrant or foreign-born parent. Also referred to as “children in immigrant families”.

DACA – immigrant youth who were brought to the US before age 16 without authorization that qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals which protects from deportation for a 2-year period. During this period, these individuals can obtain a driver’s license, SS# and work authorization. 750,000 of these youth came out of the shadows and registered with the U.S. government under this protection.

Dreamers – immigrants of undocumented status under the age of 35 seeking full or partial legalization / amnesty. Term comes from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act that was stalemated and never passed by Congress that would have allowed people residing in the US without documentation to obtain work authorizations, SS#, and driver’s license as well as a pathway to a green card.

Immigrants – Foreign-born non-citizens who choose to leave their countries of origin with the intention of residing permanently in new country. They may come by legal or unauthorized processes. This population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, persons on certain temporary visas or humanitarian visas (U or T visa), and the unauthorized.

Migrants – persons who leave their countries of origin in the hope of finding employment or, generally, better living conditions in the countries of their destination. They may or may not come to the US with intentions to stay, and they may go back and forth from their country of origin, seasonally.

Mixed status — Families that have members with different legal statuses – some with DACA, some citizens, some undocumented.

Refugee – a person located outside the US who has been forced to flee his or her country of origin because of war, violence, or persecution or well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

Unaccompanied minors – An unaccompanied alien child – child under the age of 18 who has no lawful immigration status in the United States and who enters without a parent or legal guardian in the United States to provide care and physical custody.

Undocumented status – foreign-born non-citizen residing in the U.S., having either entered without authorization or overstayed their visa

Rebecca Ford-Paz


Willis Francis

Sahar Al-Najjar

Gabriela Alvarado

Karen Chia

Catherine DeCarlo Santiago

Sandy De León

Aimee Hilado

Rocio Velazquez Kato

Susie Mazaheri

Erika Mendez

Luis Narvaez

Jose Marco Paredes

Dana Rusch

Nicole St. Jean

Hoyam Tanon


We welcome new members who are staff and volunteers at agencies serving refugees and immigrants in the Chicagoland area, as well as participation from members of the communities we aim to serve. Please contact: Rebecca Ford-Paz, PhD and Willis Francis, MA at [email protected] for further information.