Foothills Community Immigrant Services, Calgary Catholic Immigration Society
Author: Laura Suarez, Settlement Worker
Location: Calgary, Alberta
- Audience: Settlement worker in schools (SWIS)
- Population of Interest: Newcomer children
- The Need: Newcomer children face challenges integrating into the school environment upon arrival to Canada.
- What's Promising: How SWIS workers can support the post-migration needs of newcomer children in the school environment.
- Key Takeaway: Connecting children with programming where they can foster support from their community and peers to eliminate social isolation and better mental health outcomes.
Social isolation is often a concern in rural areas and can impact the mental health of newcomer children and youth. Especially as winter quickly approaches, transportation becomes an issue that results in children and youth spending a lot of time at home. To help combat social isolation, there is a need for newcomer children and youth to have access to recreational places where they can interact and connect with friends in the evenings and on the weekends.
Evidence shows that newcomer families, children and youth that have higher levels of social support and a sense of belonging in the community experience lower amounts of resettlement stress as they adjust to their host country over time. Recognizing the importance of integration into the community and the impact this can have on a newcomer’s mental health and well-being, Foothills Community Immigrant Services developed the Community Connection Program.
The Community Connection Program
Our organization aims to integrate clients into the community through the Community Connection Program. This program matches a newcomer with a Canadian family and they meet once a week to attend activities in the community together. This often results in a friendship.
The Community Connection Program Coordinator will also invite and meet with families in different parks, libraries, and sports facilities. We attend other events in the community with our clients, including: the Santa Clause parade and the Little Britches Parade – where families can walk together to feel a sense of belonging; and the Cultural Taste of High River, where volunteers from various countries will cook for 500 people. This brings people together and the community gets to learn about different cultures in the community.
In schools, we also run a youth program called NOW – Newcomer Orientation. This connects newcomer students with staff to talk about their culture and to share stories. Lastly, we share resources and events for newcomer youth and their families through the Foothills Children’s Wellness Network, with the aim of facilitating successful integration into the rural community.
The provision of these services often looks different in comparison to working in an urban center. The clients are our neighbours – they work in the community at the local restaurant, store or church etc., and our children attend school with our clients’ children.
Service providers, particularly those who work in schools and who work with children and youth, should be aware of the barriers that exist for newcomers in establishing meaningful connections and a sense of community. This is further exasperated by the challenges that arise from living in isolated rural communities. This promising practice highlights various programs that can be crucial for integration, and that can be replicated in other regions of Canada.