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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Columbia Faculty Partners with Qatar Foundation International to Assess Needs of Arab Immigrant Children

Qatar Foundation International (QFI) has launched a new partnership with Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health led by Dr. Lindsay Stark, associate professor of population and family health and director of research for the Mailman School’s Program on Forced Migration and Health. Dr. Stark, whose work focuses on measuring sensitive social phenomena, including mental health, child abuse, and gender-based violence, is principal investigator on a research project that will assess the mental health and psychosocial needs of Arabic-speaking immigrant and refugee adolescents who arrive in the U.S. and attend local schools. The research, which will be conducted at up to seven U.S. school-based sites, is an important step in determining how schools can support immigrant children ages 13 – 17.

[Photo: Dr. Lindsay Stark]

“This is an ideal opportunity to study and understand the mental health of these youth,” said Dr. Stark, who is also the executive director of the CPC Learning Network, a consortium of agencies and academic institutions that work together on global learnings associated with children and families in humanitarian and development settings. “This research will also allow us to identify school-based strategies to foster psychosocial support for them, based on the findings and determine how to best help them going forward.”

Immigrant children are often more likely than native-born children to be rated in “poor” or “fair” health, which can lead to worsening mental health and psychosocial outcomes for them. Additionally, since their families are unfamiliar with or unaware of the support systems in the United States, they are less likely to access them.

School is often a consistent, steady presence in the lives of these immigrant children, and the research will study the logistics, cost-effectiveness and family accessibility of offering support services to these children in a school setting.

“The migration process is especially hard on young people,” said Dr. Carine Allaf, senior programs advisor of Qatar Foundation International (QFI), which operates as both a grant-making organization, and a convener of thought leaders on issues related to global and international education. “It could lead to depression, anxiety, and stress, and it may be worse if they were exposed to conflict before they left their home country or have interrupted formal schooling. We hope this research shows how we can better support students after they arrive here.”

“Qatar Foundation International has increasingly been approached by schools and districts around the United States seeking assistance in supporting Arabic-speaking English learners,” said Ms. Maggie Mitchell Salem, executive director of QFI. “Even though the number of young immigrants arriving in the United States from conflict-ridden, Arabic-speaking countries has increased in recent years, we don’t know enough about their mental health and psychosocial needs to develop adequate school-based programming to help them.”

Dr. Stark is currently working with the team from Qatar Foundation International to determine the school sample which will be finalized in the new year.