Strengthening Refugee Families and Marriages
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
Strengthening Refugee Families and Marriages (SRFM) is a stand-alone program under the
umbrella of Catholic Charities. Its mission at Catholic Charities is to provide resources and
skills to refugees, enabling them to build economic security through empowerment and self-
sufficiency. Program participants include international refugees who have immigrated to the
United States for political, religious or economic reasons. The program is comprised of a
series of four-hour, interactive workshops offered in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Farsi,
Swahili and Arabic.
The goals of the program are:
1) Provide skills that will compliment existing cultural values and give family members
the tools for finding the method that works best for them and their families.
2) Provide skills for refugees to maintain or build strong and healthy family structures
and marriages to successfully overcome the stress and challenges associated with
acculturation to the U.S.
3) Strengthen strategic alliance with refugee agencies and government representatives to
increase community awareness and collaboration in the Strengthening Refugee
Family and Marriage program.
4) Recruit and train about 15-20 facilitators to conduct skills training in their respective
communities and in native languages in order to distribute culturally and linguistically
appropriate information materials about healthy relationships; and organize mentors
and volunteers for the refugee youth and collaborate with other agencies and
community to engage the youth in activities and training.
Significant benchmarks to be achieved in the coming year are:
a) Increase in the number of trainers from 10 to 20.
b) Training of Vietnamese-speaking trainers in addition to those who speak English,
Spanish, Russian, Farsi, Swahili and Arabic.
c) C) A target of at least 150 participants by October 1, 2006.
The program’s activities are meant to avert family breakdown (e.g., divorce, abandonment,
neglect, and domestic violence), while developing skills necessary to function independently
in the U.S.
The following are types of information and skills addressed through the workshops: healthy
families and marriages; money basics and budgeting (understanding bank accounts and
taxes); U.S. laws about child abuse and family violence; cultural orientation and life in
America; youth issues; preventing alcohol and drug abuse; stress management; and
employment searches. Workshop activities include relationship skill building, setting goals,
developing a realistic family budget, and how to manage credit and repay debt. These skills
are crucial for strengthening families and helping refugees to obtain self-sufficiency, while
successfully overcoming the stress associated with acculturation to the U.S.
In order to reach the largest number of refugees with family needs, SRFM at Catholic
Charities collaborates with other Houston resettlement agencies such as Alliance for
Multicultural Community Services (Alliance), Interfaith Ministries, and YMCA of Greater
Houston (YMCA). Catholic Charities also possesses vital partnerships with Houston-
Galveston area churches that provide support to refugee families as well.
Improving the Economic Conditions of the Families Served
Catholic Charities SRFM program has a series on money basics, an overview of U.S currency
and budgeting, which teaches refugees how to manage their money, understand bank
accounts, and taxes. It also collaborates with other agencies to provide more economic
literacy as follows:
• Catholic Charities, in conjunction with Bilingual Education Institute (BEI), provides
English as a Second Language (ESL), which includes instruction on money
management. This encourages participants to learn practical financial skills, along
with a new language. Topics include budgeting, banking, credit management, tax
preparation and record keeping.
• Catholic Charities educates clients about IDA programs and refers them to The
Alliance for assistance. The Alliance provides matched savings accounts and financial
literacy training to assist low-income refugee individuals and families with asset
accumulation in order to promote refugee economic independence such as Home
ownership or Post-secondary Education.
• Catholic Charities refers clients to YMCA for pre-GED and to Houston Community
College (HCC) for job training. HCC program incorporates ESL instruction to better
prepare refugees for employment. These classes provide training in housekeeper and
janitorial services. The teaching strategies included role-playing to simulate guest
interactions, vocabulary expansion to include hotel and job specific terminology,
listening and speaking. Relevant issues such as cleaning equipment use of cleaning
supplies and safety issues are addressed. This program has improved job placement
for hard-to-place refugee clients, enabling them to become self-sufficient and
contribute to the economy.
• Catholic Charities also provides job development and placement, immigration
assistance, and assistance in accessing needed medical care, housing, and emergency
services, such as food, clothing, and utility assistance.
Building Relationships and Fostering Partnerships within the
Catholic Charities resettlement department collaborates with federal and state agencies and
other providers to enhance the program services. They communicate by email, phone, mail
or meetings. They meet with Directors of other agencies (e.g., YMCA, Alliance, and
Interfaith Ministries) every other month to research issues affecting refugees and their
children in schools, and explore ways to best resolve these problems. They attend quarterly
meetings with the state representative to voice their concerns. They attend focus groups with
Harris County Health Department and Houston Independent School District. Other
• Staff involvement in the community by recruiting volunteers and maintaining the
good relationship with clients by listening and giving feed back
• Catholic Charities staff meets regularly with pastors of various parishes to strengthen
and maintain this partnership, linking families with parishes, volunteers and other
• Caseworkers and other staff member communicate freely with all agencies to link
families with their needs such as employments and health services.
• SRFM is a member of The Healthy Marriage Coalition of Houston which is a
network of several organizations interested in promoting healthy marriages and
strengthening family relationships in the Greater Houston area.
• Catholic Charities works with University of Houston Graduate college of Social
Work utilizing interns to serve refugees in the SRFM program.
• SRFM coordinator attends Harris County Somali Bantu Focus Group and Houston
Independent School District focus group on youth
Encouraging Input for Developing Program Goals
Catholic Charities continuously monitors the planning and implementation processes, and
materials are constantly evaluated to ensure applicability and effectiveness. Through 2006,
materials and programs will continue to be evaluated and adapted based on particular
refugee communities and their needs. Catholic Charities also has open door policies whereby
clients are encouraged to come and discuss issues with caseworkers or supervisor. They are
also encouraged to fill out a survey anonymously which is then evaluated and discussed with
concerned parties. Additionally, these actions routinely take place:
• Evaluations are collected after every workshop from the participants, volunteers and
trainer. This is an opportunity for participants to evaluate the program and provide
feedback on how the services can be improved. Results of these surveys are also
used to identify any areas of concerns.
• Participant suggestions frequently result in program changes such as more activities,
referrals to other agencies, tax assistance, incentives to participate, and use of native
• Program activities are also reviewed at bi-weekly meetings where staff can share
information and suggestions for improvement.
Empowering Families to Overcome Barriers that Restrict their Personal
and Community Growth
Catholic Charities provides opportunities for refugees to participate in programs that
promote leadership development. Many refugees would participate in leadership roles in the
community but there are many barriers that slow this progress. For example, Catholic
Charities and The Alliance recently assisted the Somali Bantus to form a 501(c) 3 non-profit
status chapter in the Houston area to assist the Somali refugees’ cultural needs.
The Vietnamese community is a tight knit society; they help one another. Many of them are
interested in small business operation. SRFM in collaboration with St. Lucy Long of
Dominican sisters train Vietnamese in Family Wellness, banking, budgeting and tax
The Burmese refugees are mostly from smaller ethnic groups: Chin (Christian), Mon
(Buddhist) or Karen (Christian). Many have an adequate command of English although they
might have never finished secondary school. However, even those from countries where
they were able to get an education, internal and external conflicts may have affected the
quality of education significantly. Those refugees must also obtain remedial education, in
most cases, and many are not familiar with what would be considered standard adult learning
This situation also applies to Liberians. Parenting education is especially needed in some of
the African refugee communities, as well as for Bosnians and Afghans. Because the vast
majority of the refugees are women and children, childcare and child education is a big
problem. Parents lose control of their children and the children become disobedient. There
have been several instances of Bosnian children running away from home and getting
apprehended by CPS. Parents complain that they are not able to stay home to watch their
children – because of work commitments – and then the children get frustrated and lose
interest in school. Refugee parents are not sure how to handle these situations as in their
communities there is no precedent for tackling these problems.
There have been some instances of teenage promiscuity within the Afghan and Somali Bantu
communities although parents are reluctant to discuss topics such as sex and drugs with their
children. Somali Bantu children have been bullied by American African-Americans but at the
same time, are ignorant about solving problems and communicating with outside cultures
and communities. Parents often do not understand that teachers in the U.S. do not have the
same responsibility as teachers from their country of origin. Parents are afraid or unwilling to
approach school officials when there are discipline or educational problems.
Although refugee women are afforded a lot of independence when they arrive in the U.S.,
some may withdraw from it completely while others embrace it. A group of women who
acquired too much independence in the Sudanese community were labeled as “stubborn
women.” They started an organization, which was boycotted by many of the men in the
community. Many fell out of favor in the community, while they struggled to learn how to
be self-sufficient and take care of their children.
This happens frequently in other refugee communities as well, particularly the Somali Bantu
and Afghan communities. In addition to the above barriers:
• Many have faced a century of war and torture and are having difficulties in
• They experience common issues such as difficulties in learning English, particularly
• Some may face stress trying to maintain the cultural traditions and adapting to the
new culture but fear of criticism for giving up the old culture.
• Some use children or another young person in the community to translate, which
creates stress because of the role switch (traditionally the youth go to the elders for
• They are stressed about their children because of the struggles their children face
once enrolled in schools in the U.S., which in addition to learning difficulties may
also risk HIV-AIDs and teen pregnancy. Overcoming prejudice against due to
religious allegiance by forming/joining gangs in need of peer support, use of drugs,
and facing difficulties at school.
• The roles of women also change upon arrival to the U.S. because they gain new
freedom (it is difficult and uncomfortable for the women to reconcile this new
freedom to their traditional views of the role of the woman. It is even more difficult
for the men to reconcile these changes and therefore, lead to divorce, domestic
violence or drinking problems).
Catholic Charities collaborates with other agencies to identify and solve these issues by
referring clients to various community organizations and agencies to share resources. Clients
are referred to Family Wellness training which utilizes group learning that teach the skills
essential for successful relationships: communication and conflict resolution, braided
dialogue, emotional self-regulation (anger control), shared decision-making, apologies and
other healing routines, support skills, and intimacy enhancement. These workshops teach the
details of how conflicts move effectively to collaborative resolution, and of how to convey
these patterns to couples so that they can enjoy secure and healthy attachments. Other
referrals are Bilingual Education Institute for ESL and at Catholic Charities for financial
literacy education, health, nutrition and hygiene education.
SRFM hopes to begin a bi-weekly support group for the Somali Bantu refugees and
organizing similar meetings for other communities such as Afghans, Liberians and Burmese.
SRFM has realized that working with refugees in groups facilitates learning, decreases
isolation and facilitates creative problem solving. These support groups will focus on coping
skills, conflict management, family financial management and job/career advancement.
SRFM will continue to arrange for translators and community leaders to teach and co-
facilitate these groups. The support group mechanism also helps in gaining support from the
community and discussing how to solve problems. We are also planning support groups for
refugee women with the help of a group of Sudanese and Afghan women and volunteer
support from Interfaith Ministries.
SRFM is also involved in the focus groups to improve the life of the refugee, especially the
youth in the community, by involving local politicians, Houston police, school
representatives and community representatives to prevent gang activities and school
dropouts. There is also a collaboration between SRFM and The Alliance to support youth
programs and training that teach children economic responsibilities e.g. getting summer jobs
and mentor programs. SRFM also provides mini training for small business such as bead
making, baking, and childcare.
Empowering Families to Advocate on Behalf of Others in the
The Strengthening Refugee Families and Marriages program empowers refugees through
education. SRFM utilizes two culturally and linguistically appropriate marriage and family
strengthening curricula: the Power of Twoä and Family Wellness curricula. Both curricula
have been culturally adapted to fit the needs of refugees. The lack of traditional support
mechanisms requires refugees to learn new skills to solve family and marriage conflict and at
the same time, assimilate American life. As refugees start working, learn English, learn how
to manage their money and achieve financial stability, they gain energy and self- confidence
to take leadership role. These qualities enable them to become advocates for others who face
the same struggles.
SRFM provides skills to take leadership roles on behalf other families using:
• Role-play which is utilized during Family Wellness training to help refugees learn
how to participant in community activities and serve as an advocate for themselves
• Refuges are encouraged to join neighborhood groups where they will have an
opportunity to participate in community activities. Become future trainers within
their communities. They can also participate in schools, parishes and political issues
that affect their acculturation process.
• Family Wellness training assists refugees in developing healthy strategies to discipline
their children and deal with commonplace stresses and difficulties in a manner
acceptable in America so that families can remain intact and the need for CPS
intervention is minimized.
• Family Wellness training “conflict resolution” is expected to reduce 911 calls by
encouraging and training participants in strategies to avert domestic violence.
• Family Wellness will provide them with communication skills and coach them to be
able to understand and communicate with school, police or local government. It is
also important to promote healthy behaviors and foster youth development.
• Family Wellness program addresses issues that affect refugee’s acculturation such as
filing taxes, immigration law, legal procedures, voting, school laws and
transportation. In addition, we teach volunteers to train refugees, in order to allow
our target population to be better served in spite of limited resources.
Connecting Families to the Resources They Need to be Successful
SRFM has committed resources and has trained trainers to ensure that families can access
any possible resource they may need through referrals. SRFM coordinator works closely with
caseworkers that identify any family that needs help. SRFM also works closely with other
agencies and the parishes to identify needs.
• The coordinator works with other trainers, community leaders and resettlement
managers to facilitate the presentations such as hygiene classes, and other orientation
• Participants are encouraged to define achievable goals and action plan. Participants
are shown how to access resources such as health benefits, nutrition advice, and
childcare assistance, job training, utility, transportation issues and legal services.
Representatives are invited to present some of these services to the participants on
• Catholic Charities has a Family Counseling program in-house, which SRFM refers
families with long-term issues.
Collecting and Measuring Outcomes
FY2005 program, we trained more than 160 refugees and hope to exceed this number in
2006. SRFM hopes to implement an improved evaluation mechanism. One challenge has
been implementing pre- and post- test measurements to measure participants’ knowledge of
particular concepts taught in the trainings. This is due to the lack of language capacity of the
refugees and the difficulty in locating participants for follow-up. Feedback is obtained
through a questionnaire for participants already participating in skills training or orientations.
Participants from recent trainings stated that the classes are very good because they “teach
us how to keep our families united” and they “prepare you for life, the future, and family.
This year SRFM will assess program outcomes after sufficient participants have completed
the program and sufficient time has passed so that meaningful measures can be obtained.
The following are ways in which we plan to measure our outcomes:
• ·Self-sufficiency will be measured a) percent of families with at least one full-time (or
part-time) employed adult, b) percent of families with income over the poverty level
for that size family, c) percent of employed individuals who have maintained stable
employment for 3 months, 6 months, one year. These measures should be collected
at two points in time; initially before program implementation and sometime after
program participation is completed, e.g., 6 months after completion, one year after
completion. If the program were effective, then an improvement from the baseline
measure would be expected.
• Ability to function economically in American society will be measured a) percent of
families with checking accounts, b) percent of families with savings accounts, c)
percent of families with a household budget plan, d) percent of families who
successfully obtain any kind of loan, e) percent of families who do not require relief
payments to pay their regular bills like rent, f) percent of families who complete their
annual tax returns by April 15.
• Stability and health of families will be shown by appropriate use of health and other
community services and consequent reductions in divorce rates, abandonment of
children and other dependent family members, child neglect, and domestic violence:
It might be possible to gather such measures as baseline use of various health
services and other appropriate resources, rate of divorce, child abandonment, child
neglect, domestic violence among refugee populations and then to measure changes
among neglect, participating population over a certain period of time, e.g. one year.
SRFM will know the outcome has been achieved by identifying and tracking number
of refugees who are self-sufficient, attending English classes, Family Wellness
training and who are participating in there community. Another way is to see how
the youth are behaving in schools and the progress they are making, which can be
obtained from the schools.
• Participant’s pre- and post-surveys which will assist Catholic Charities in measuring
the services provided to monitor outcomes and experiences and develop new
training activities curriculum for the upcoming year.
• The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which funds SRFM
programs and Catholic University of America has developed an evaluation
mechanism to test SRFM program and provide feedback.
• The strategic plan this year has the following goal: increase in knowledge, measured
by pre-and post tests; achievement of goals, documented by the number of graduates
and VISTA interns and client satisfaction, indicated by follow up surveys and
training. Catholic Charities and other agencies have a common vision for the success
of the refugees and involvement in the community. a) Provide skills that will
compliment existing cultural values and give family members tools for finding the
method that works best for them. b) Provide skills for refugees to maintain and build
strong and healthy family structures and marriages to successfully overcome the
stress and challenges associated with acculturation to the USA. c) Provide ESL,
Family Wellness Training, Financial education and Health education.
Catholic Charities of the Archdioceses of Galveston-Houston
2900 Louisiana Street | Houston, TX 77006