Many of us can’t imagine what it would feel like to spend part of our childhoods away from our parents, and then move to a new country to live with our parents—perhaps without knowing them well.
But it was situation seen often by Robin Hamby, who works as a family partnership specialist for the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. Hamby noticed there was a special set of problems facing immigrant families in this situation—kids who might have missed their former caregiver and home country struggled to adapt to their new surroundings, sometimes becoming defiant with their parents as a result. Meanwhile, parents sometimes didn’t know their kids as well as they would have liked.
To help alleviate this disconnect, Hamby and others created a “Reunification of Immigrant Families” program with resources for parents, teachers, and schools. The program offers lots of resources for teachers, such as summaries of research related to these types of families and seminars about how to help such kids in their classes. At the heart of Hamby’s efforts is the Parent Project, a series of classes in English and Spanish for parents whose kids are having difficulty adjusting to America.
A video interview (English starts at 2:53) with Miguel and Jessica, parents who’ve participated in the program, makes it clear how valuable these lessons are. “One of the things that I love about this program is the way it changed [my ability] to understand my kids,” Miguel said. “To listen to the words he was trying to express, to understand their feelings and to change the way I was listening to my kids.” His wife Jessica has been equally impressed with the program. “It’s been so much easier to set our expectations for our children, and learn their expectations for us,” she says. “They know the consequences now. They know that we love them. I think that we thought that they knew, but the program really teaches us to be more expressive and more affectionate with them, and to give them…active supervision so that they know that we are in control.”
Hamby’s work isn’t just getting praise from those involved with the program, though. She was recently honored by a Virginia nonprofit called SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) for the work she does to prevent child abuse and neglect. When accepting her honor, Hamby told the audience that, “Welcoming is not just a mat by the door, but an attitude that inspires feelings of safety and connection,” according to the Fairfax Times. Many immigrant families would probably agree with that—and they have Hamby to thank, among others, for smooth transitions as they reunite.