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Welcoming New American Families from Afghanistan

December 05, 2021
by Camille Brown

We all witnessed the heartbreaking scenes as Afghan families rushed to the airport in Kabul, fleeing violence and suppression as the Talban regained control of the capital. Since then, many Afghan families in the greater New Haven community have experienced great anxiety, fear, and loss.

The New Haven organization, Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) is a non-profit agency whose mission is to help refugees establish new lives here in the United States. In the next 3 months, IRIS will be resettling 300 new refugees from Afghanistan and we expect greater than 40% of these individuals to be children. Most of these families will have been evacuated from Afghanistan and temporarily housed at US military bases.

As the pediatric medical teams who will care for these families, we need to prepare.

Interpretation services are vital. Similar to the other Afghan families we already care for, we will need to utilize Pashto or Dari interpreters. It will be important to have an interpreter for the family, even if the father speaks English. This is especially true for visits with the mother or teenage children.

These New American families will need extra support with navigating our healthcare system. This means making follow up appointments, providing language line numbers for calling clinics, explaining our 911 system, posting informational flyers in Pashto and Dari, and providing clear directions on how to pick up medications at the pharmacy.

As the pediatric medical teams who will care for these families, we need to prepare.

Camille Brown, MD

These children and families have been exposed to a history of chronic war and violence such as kidnappings, torture and car bombings. Now they have the addition of the acute trauma of evacuation, the harrowing experience of getting out of Afghanistan, loss of home and family, uncertainty of temporary housing on bases, and not knowing where they will live or what supports they will have here in New Haven.

We expect high levels of mental health concerns. This can be a very personal and taboo subject for Afghan families. We are working to settle children in classrooms as quickly as possible and IRIS is working with the schools to increase mental health supports through afterschool programs.

Importantly, all of the refugee children will be eligible for Husky insurance. As of 9/30/21, per the Afghanistan Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022, all individuals paroled in the US between 7/31/2021 and 9/30/22 will be eligible for mainstream benefits, resettlement assistance, and other refugee benefits. These include: 8 months of Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance. All children will be able to receive WIC and SNAP benefits.

Welcoming this many new families in a short amount of time is unprecedented. Together with our colleagues at IRIS we are working with community members to build the educational, mental and behavioral health and community supports available for these families. It is a privilege to work with these families and we look forward to supporting them during this challenging time as they start their new lives in CT.

Submitted by Alexa Tomassi on December 06, 2021

Paw Prints: A Yale Pediatrics Blog is managed and edited by the following team:

Molly Markowitz, MD

Pediatric Resident

Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital

Amanda Calhoun, MD/MPH

Child Psychiatry Resident

Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital and Yale Child Study Center

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