The Karen Chemical Dependency Collaboration: Lessons Learned in Using a Collaborative Framework to Promote Refugee Integration

  • Jennifer McCleary University of Minnesota Duluth Department of Social Work
  • Tonya Horn University of Minnesota Twin Cities School of Social Work; HealthEast Roselawn Clinic
  • Paw Wah Toe HealthEast Roselawn Clinic
  • Ehtaw Dwee Karen Chemical Dependency Collaboration
  • Shana Sniffen HealthEast Roselawn Clinic
Keywords: Refugee resettlement, substance abuse, refugee integration, cultural adaptation

Abstract

While refugee integration is defined as a bidirectional process of mutual learning and adaptation, in practice, the U.S. resettlement program continues to emphasize refugees’ acculturation processes and places little emphasis on cultural or logistical adaptation of existing services. When adaptation does happen, it is often structured around dominant notions of health and well-being. There is a need to explore bidirectional integration processes and existing systems adaptations to accommodate people with refugee backgrounds at the institutional level. This article details a framework to build a sustainable collaboration between a refugee community and existing health and social service systems to reduce harmful alcohol use. The conceptual framework emphasizes three components: 1) adaptation of refugees’ indigenous expertise, networks, systems, and resources; 2) adaptation of existing systems to serve new groups in culturally relevant and effective ways; and 3) the participatory processes through which refugees and existing systems collaborate to achieve mutual goals. This paper describes the application of this framework and concludes with a discussion of lessons to support replication of the framework in other settings. Lessons learned include: equalizing power, paying attention to relationships and roles, engaging in deep cultural adaption of interventions, and building individual and organizational capacity to support partners.

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Published
2018-09-18