The Refugee Mental Health Resource Network: An APA Interdivisional Project

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Elizabeth Carll, PhD
Elizabeth Carll, PhD

There has been a growing urgency to address the global migration problem impacting many nations including the U.S.  The recent crisis resulting from the separation of children from their parents and families when attempting to seek refuge in the U.S at the Texas border has catapulted the issue to the front pages of news outlets. Complying with U.S. laws and international agreements, while adhering to current government policies on immigration has resulted in much public concern as to the human rights of the families and the children and how to best support them. It is anticipated that many of the unaccompanied and separated children may be relocated to other states in the U.S. Immigration policies vary by country, whereas refugee rights were enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, the key legal document ratified by the UN which defined the term “refugee” and outlined the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of countries to protect them.

More recently, due to the concern for missing children, in 2017 the European Commission published a series of recommendations outlining priority actions for the protection of migrant and refugee children, including the appointment of a guardian upon arrival in Europe; the guarantee of legal assistance; healthcare; psychosocial support and education; and reliable and non-invasive procedures to assess the age of young-asylum seekers, among others. The Council of Europe published the Action Plan on protecting refugee and migrant children which was adopted by the EU member states. The Action Plan focuses on ensuring access to rights and child-friendly procedures, providing effective protection, and enhancing the integration of children who would remain in Europe.  Currently, a Global Compact for Migration is being negotiated by the 193 member states of the United Nations.

Recognizing that there will be a growing need for mental health expertise to work with refugees and immigrants and that there was no organized initiative to address this need was the impetus for the development Refugee Mental Health Resource Network. The project which began being developed in 2016 as the Division 56 presidential initiative of Elizabeth Carll was quickly expanded upon realization that the success of the project would require a broader APA involvement as well as international involvement and for that reason a decision was made to apply for a CODAPAR grant which was received in 2017. The grant enabled underwriting the cost of developing the searchable database of volunteers and beginning the development of webinars to train psychologists. The webinars were important, as working with refugees, including asylum evaluations, are not areas of training in most universities.

This APA interdivisional grant was spearheaded by Division 56 and co-sponsored by Divisions 35, 52, and 55.  However, other Divisions and some state psychological associations are now also collaborating and others are in process and international volunteers are also being included. The initiative includes a database of close to 400 volunteers interested in working with refugees, immigrants, and internally displaced people (IDPs).

Since 2017, there have been 8 webinars organized and conducted for those interested in volunteering with refugees, immigrants and IDPs. Division 56 is approved to provide APA CE credits and we have recently been approved for home study CE, so prior and upcoming webinars will be available on demand for those interested in working with refugees, immigrants, and IDPs (as well as other Division webinars). A website was also developed to be able to search the skills of volunteers who are registered in the database. The database includes licensed practitioners, researchers, as well as students.  It was decided to include students as there was much interest, in some instances they may be able to participate in certain activities, and many would also benefit from the webinars.

We will be populating the website with resources, so please send articles and resources you find helpfulto focus has been on developing the volunteer database and connecting with agencies, as there are excellent resources already published which are being added.

If you are interested in volunteering, please go to www.refugeementalhealthnet.organd sign up and join the Network. Volunteering to help others will be a rewarding experience.

The Refugee Mental Health Resource Network Steering Committee consists of Elizabeth Carll, chair; Betsy Gard, vice-chair; Brigitte Khoury, Elaine LeVine, Diana Prescott, and George Rhoades.