Educational Cultural Brokers and the School Adaptation of Refugee Children and Families: Challenges and Opportunities

  • Sophie YohaniEmail author


Canadian schools are utilizing services previously provided by settlement and community-based agencies to ensure the successful school adaptation of refugee children and families. This study examined the role of educational cultural brokers during the adaptation. Research queries addressed include strategies that cultural brokers use to facilitate the adaptation of refugee children in school settings, and opportunities and barriers to cultural brokering that exist in educational settings. A qualitative case study of eight educational cultural brokers was employed, using focus groups, critical incidents, document review, and semistructured interviews. Results suggest brokers engage in micro- and macrolevel activities through six brokering roles, with each role encompassing challenges and opportunities at the school, agency, and community level. This paper discusses aspects of these roles that have relevance for practice and policy for both cultural brokers and other providers of school-based services to refugee families.


Cultural brokers Refugees Children and families Mental health School adaptation 



I gratefully acknowledge the Prairies Metropolis Centre for funding to complete this research and community partners, Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN).


  1. Alberta Advanced Education and Technology. (2006). Review of ESL K-12 program implementation in Alberta: Final report. Edmonton: Author.Google Scholar
  2. Amatea, E. S., & West-Olatunji, C. A. (2007). Joining the conversation about educating our poorest children: emerging leadership roles for school counsellors in high-poverty schools. Professional School Counseling, 11(2), 81–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anisef, P., & Kilbride, K. M. (2000). The needs of newcomer youth and emerging “best practices” to meet those needs: final report. Toronto: CERIS.Google Scholar
  4. Baffoe, M. (2007). Navigating two worlds: Culture and cultural adaptation of immigrant and refugee youth in a Quebec (Canadian) educational context (Doctoral dissertation, McGill University, 2006). Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations (AAT NR27754).Google Scholar
  5. Ballen, J., & Moles, O. (1998). Strong families, strong schools. Washington: U.S. Department of Education.Google Scholar
  6. Ben-Zur, H., & Michael, K. (2007). Burnout, social support, and coping at work among social workers, psychologists and nurses: the role of challenges, control appraisals. Social Work in Healthcare, 45(4), 63–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bober, T., Regehr, C., & Zhou, Y. R. (2006). Development of the coping strategies inventory for trauma counsellors. Journal of Loss & Trauma, 11(1), 71–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. G. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook for theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). New York: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  9. Brockett, D. (1998). Reaching out to immigrant parents. Education Digest, 63(8), 29–32.Google Scholar
  10. Colaizzi, P. (1978). Existential–phenomenological attentiveness for psychology. New York: Oxford Press.Google Scholar
  11. Cooper, C. R., Denner, J., & Lopez, E. M. (1999). Cultural brokers: helping Latino children on pathways towards success. The Future of Children, 9, 51–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davis, M., & Webb, E. (2000). Promoting the psychological well-being of refugee children. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 5, 541–554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Flanagan, J. C. (1954). The critical incident technique. Psychological Bulletin, 51, 327–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gentemann, K. M. (1978). Cultural continuity in an opportunity program: a case study of an experiment in higher education. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, PAGoogle Scholar
  15. Gentemann, K. M., & Whitehead, T. L. (1983). The cultural broker concept in bicultural education. The Journal of Negro Education, 52, 118–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Goodwin, L. (2000). Teachers as (multi)cultural agents in schools. In R. Carter (Ed.), Addressing cultural issues in organizations: beyond the corporate context (pp. 104–114). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Gorman, W. (1999). Canadian native students and inequitable learning. Canadian Social Studies, 33, 114–116.Google Scholar
  18. Gutman, L. M., & Midgley, C. (2000). The role of protective factors in supporting the academic achievement of poor African American students during the middle school transition. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 29(2), 223–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Howland, A., Anderson, J. A., Smiley, A. D., & Abbott, D. (2006). School liaisons: bridging the gap between home and school. The School Community Journal, 16, 47–68.Google Scholar
  20. Jeynes, W. H. (2005). A meta-analysis of the relation between parental involvement to urban elementary school student academic achievement. Urban Education, 40(3), 237–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jezewski, M. A. & Sotnik, P. (2001). Cultural brokering: providing culturally competent rehabilitation services to foreign-born persons. Accessed 20 April 2008
  22. Jones, C. J., & Trickett, E. J. (2005). Immigrant adolescents behaving as culture brokers: a study of families from the former Soviet Union. The Journal of Social Psychology, 145, 405–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kapreilian-Churchill, I. (1996). Refugees and education in Canadian schools. International Review of Education, 42, 349–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lane, B. A. (1992). Cultural leaders in effective schools: the builders and brokers of excellence. NASSP Bulletin, 76, 85–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lareau, A., & Weininger, E. B. (2003). Cultural capital in educational research: a critical assessment. Theory and Society, 32(5–6), 567–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lewis, K. C. (2004). Instructional aides: colleagues or cultural brokers? The School Community Journal, 14, 91–112.Google Scholar
  27. Lustig, S. L., Kia-Keating, M., Knight, W. G., Geltmand, P., Ellis, H., Kinzie, J. D., et al. (2004). Review of child and adolescent refugee mental health. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 43(1), 24–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lynch, E. W. (2004). Developing cross-cultural competence. In E. W. Lynch & M. J. Hanson (Eds.), Developing cross-cultural competence: a guide for working with children and their families (pp. 19–39). Baltimore: Brookes.Google Scholar
  29. Major, E. M. (2006). Secondary teachers as cultural mediators for language minority students. Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 80, 29–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Martinez-Cosio, M., & Iannacone, R. M. (2007). The tenuous role of institutional agents: parent liaisons as cultural brokers. Education and Urban Society, 39, 349–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Merriam, S. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education research (Revth ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  32. Miller, J., Mitchell, J., & Brown, J. (2005). African refugees with interrupted schooling in the high school mainstream: dilemmas for teachers. Prospect: An Australian Journal of TESOL, 20(2), 19–33.Google Scholar
  33. Owen, C. L., & English, M. (2005). Working together as culture brokers by building trusting alliances with bilingual and bicultural newcomer paraprofessionals. Child Welfare, 84, 669–688.Google Scholar
  34. Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (3rd ed.). Mewbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  35. Raval, H. (2005). Being heard and understood in the context of seeking asylum and refuge: communicating with the help of bilingual co-workers. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 10(2), 197–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Richardson, J. I. (2001). Guidebook on vicarious trauma: recommended solutions for anti-violence workers. National Clearinghouse on Family Violence. Accessed 2 June 2010.
  37. Rueda, R., & Genzuk, M. (2007). Sociocultural scaffolding as a means toward academic self-regulation: paraeducators as cultural brokers. Focus on Exceptional Children, 40, 1–8.Google Scholar
  38. Singh, N. N., McKay, J. D., & Singh, A. N. (1999). The need for cultural brokers in mental health services. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 8, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stairs, A. (1995). Learning processes and teaching roles in native education: cultural base and cultural brokerage. In M. Battiste & J. Barman (Eds.), First Nations education in Canada: the circle unfolds (pp. 139–153). Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  40. Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  41. Tse, L. (1995). Language brokering among Latino adolescents: prevalence, attitudes, and school performance. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 17, 180–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Weine, S. (2008). Family roles in refugee youth resettlement from a prevention perspective. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 17, 515–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wilkinson, L. (2002). Factors influencing the academic success of refugee youth in Canada [electronic version]. Journal of Youth Studies, 5, 173–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

Personalised recommendations