Amelia Seraphia Derr, MSW, PhD, Assistant Professor of Social Work, and MSW student Maria Abdullahi recently worked with the Immigrant Family Institute in the City of Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.
The Immigrant Family Institute (IFI) ran from March 25 to May 13 this year, bringing together 42 immigrant family members who have experienced the juvenile justice system and 12 Seattle Police Department officers to learn from each other. Dr. Derr, along with The Bush School Director of Intercultural Affairs Jabali Stewart and SPD Officer Martin Welte, developed the IFI curriculum and led sessions every Saturday for eight weeks, using a teaching approach that honored the knowledge that the participants brought to the program and provided participants with many opportunities for group and self-learning.
Dr. Derr was part of the curriculum design and facilitation team. “Our intention was to bring disparate groups together to strengthen their ability to be advocates for themselves and each other. The Immigrant Family Institute has been a powerful example of the importance of human relationships in a climate of fear and uncertainty. Each Saturday we gathered and built bridges of understanding through discussing the realities of the participants’ lives. We ate together, danced, played music, talked about police violence and racism, shared the painful and joyful experiences of being an immigrant in the U.S. today and, ultimately, provided immigrant families with needed resources, information, and connections to those with the power to partner with them to change systems they are disproportionately impacted by.”
Dr. Derr invited her student Maria Abdullahi to join the IFI team as a group leader for the young women in the Institute. Maria worked each week to support the group members in their own goals and aspirations. They talked about self-image, internalized oppression, career goals, and other hopes for their future.
The IFI, built off the award-winning success of the Refugee Women's Institute (also facilitated by Dr. Derr), sought to provide leadership skills to immigrant youth who have been impacted by the juvenile justice system. At the same time, the program helped their parents/guardians self-advocate and navigate City, legal, and education systems and helped Seattle officers be more culturally responsive in serving immigrant youth of color and their families.
To help the families participate fully, the program offered resources that included breakfast and lunch, bus passes, on-site child care, limited case management support, and interpretation services.
The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs is planning to continue the work of the IFI by evaluating the short and long term effects of the program on this year’s participants. They plan on offering IFI again next year. Dr. Derr shared, “Our City government and our University have an important role to play in supporting immigrants and refugees in the current political climate. The participants of the IFI – both families and officers - told us over and over that this program was desperately needed.”
Seattle Met Magazine also published a story about IFI here.