immigrants along with their children escaping from harsh conditions in other
countries come into the United States hoping their struggles will be over. However most of the time this is far from the
case. Children of refugees and immigrants face many barriers once they reach
American shores especially when they need medical care.
of immigrants are the fastest growing component of the U.S. child population,
representing 24% of all U.S. children.
Many citizens in America
are not multilingual. If the refugees or
immigrants come into the United
States illegally or are not documented, they
are often afraid to seek needed services for fear that they maybe
deported. So often they will avoid
reaching out for help when in fact it is so badly needed. Some of the barriers they face involve language
barriers when they attempt to schedule or make appointments for their children. Their inability to communicate in English can
negatively impact health care in emergencies.
If they can not speak English and there is no interpreter there is a
real problem with the physicians understanding the medical symptoms and how to
accurately diagnose the problem. Other
problems include scheduling and making appointments and filling out
prescriptions when there is a language barrier.
like the language barrier imposes a major obstacle to access to medical care,
cultural barriers also impact every aspect of the lives of children of refugees
and immigrants who often are not familiar with preventative care. In many cultures, medical care is only sought
if someone is sick but not to prevent sickness.
Also, it is rare in other cultures to seek medical care for mental
health issues where often a stigma is attached.
There is often a real lack of understanding about mental health
conditions. Before a child is born to
an expecting mother of a refugee faces cultural barriers that greatly impacts
her use of Western medicine. Many
expecting mothers are very afraid of c-section deliveries of babies and many
times are frustrated with the fast pace in the delivery of babies in modern U.S. hospitals. Many refugees and their children are afraid
of hospitals. Another problem with the
cultural barriers is understanding side effects. If a family can fill a medical prescription
they often do not understand side effects of prescriptions and they will just
stop taking the medicines. Refugees at
times have different medical explanations for their medical condition. In some cultures, it is believed that the
body does not remake blood cells and has a limited amount of blood in the body
so they would rather go see a healer than go to a hospital.
real problem for refugee and immigrants is having incorrect interpreters with
translational services. Many
interpreters have not had proper training in language interpretation. If the translator has not had proper training
it can cause a real danger for the doctor and patient trying to make a
diagnosis and can make compliance more confusing and difficult. Often there is great stress in refugees in
the translation services. Many times
children are required to serve as interpreters for their own families. This can
be detrimental to everyone involved.
Often children do not have an advanced vocabulary or understanding or maturity
to serve as a helpful translator. This
puts children in a position of great responsibility and stress. Sometimes, this tremendous amount of stress
placed on children in a family can lead to power battles within a family and it
can lead to loss of the authority of a parent figure. When a translator or interpreter is well
trained in the language of the refugee or immigrant family it makes communications
between them and healthcare providers much easier especially when there is a
cultural connection. One of the simple
things people can do when they want to help refugees or immigrants and their
families is to start a conversation with them and have an appreciation of what
they have been through to come to the United States. So many times, they feel invisible and feel
like outsiders in a foreign country.
Many times children of refugees or immigrants are placed in school by
their age not for their ability to learn in a new school system. For children who are unable to speak English
it is a real struggle to keep up with school.
When the parents also can not speak English it is hard for them to help
their children or to be able to ask for help at the school for their kids. Refugee parents often see their children
struggling in school, and see bullying and discrimination as a result of
of the issues that affects access for children to medical care and to many
other areas of their lives is trouble finding transportation. If the parent of refugee or immigrant child
goes to get a driver’s license they can run into a number of problems. If they do not speak English, they need a
translator to help and they can be hard to find at times. The person seeking to get the license has to
be able to speak English to pass the written exam and this can be a major
obstacle when they are not familiar with the English language. If a family can share their car with them, it
can be a real challenge getting children to school and getting their parents to
work. If the father drives the car to
his job to provide for the family, it is up to the women and mothers to get
transportation for themselves and the children who need to go to the school and
to the store to buy groceries for their families. To get to a medical appointment is that even
greater a challenge with no transportation.
In large cities there is public transportation but to some refugees and
immigrants it can be a real scary experience.
If someone is unable to speak English, they are not able to read street
signs such as crossing a street or stopping at a light. Even understanding the names of roads or
streets is a hardship and when someone can’t speak English to ask for help makes
transportation a real difficulty. For
the adults and parents of refugee children and immigrants there are ESL classes
such as English as a Second Language but again getting to these classes with
transportation problems is a real stumbling block to learning English and if a
parent works and has to have the car the other parent is not able to get to
these classes. These classes can help a
family a great deal with taking care of their children’s medical needs and
communication with healthcare providers when they can learn English and learn
structural barriers facing medical care to children of refugees and immigrants
is fear of being deported. Many times a
family really is in need to seek help medically or legally but is truly afraid
if they are undocumented immigrants.
Sometimes the traumatic events in their lives that they have personally
seen and witnessed really justifies them seeing a doctor and getting medical
attention but they just do not know how to get help. In some foreign cultures
mental health cases are looked at as taboo in other nations and that can create
another obstacle to getting medical care.
The logistics of getting to a phone or trying to make an appointment
with a doctor and to get to a pharmacy to pick up a medicine can be true
challenges. That is if they are lucky
enough to have been able to get to a doctor and be accurately diagnosed getting
past this third barrier getting to a pharmacy to pick up the medicine has to be
overcome. Having the money to pay for the medical exam and to pay for the
medicine prescribed is the hardest obstacle.
For this reason, many children of refugees and immigrants can only be
seen in a local emergency room in a hospital and will need the emergency room
staff to fill their prescriptions even for small health problems.
are many ways Americans can reach out and help these families and
children. So many of them are very
strong people and are very grateful just be living in the United States. Many time what they dream of for their
families are very basic dreams. Just to
provide their children with education and to have a place to live with a roof
over their head. All of this in a
culture to them may seem so foreign. When Americans can help these families in
any way it really can make a big difference in the lives of these children and
their families. Extending a helping hand
to care or a friendship can make a big difference in this world.