Partnerships Help Missing Youth in Refugee Populations
In late 2018, the Heartland Family Service Refugee Advocate Program developed a prevention service delivery model due to conversations around the demographics of missing youth in the community. These conversations included partners from Operation Youth Success, The Omaha Police Department, and Project Harmony. Through discussion and data analysis, it appeared that a number of missing you were being reported from the local Karen refugee community.
The Karen (pronounced Ka-REN) are an ethnic group from the mountainous border regions of Burma and Thailand. They have long been subject to persecution by the Burmese government, and many have been living in refugee camps in Thailand before being resettled to Nebraska. There are approximately 5,500 Karen living in Nebraska with an additional 300 refugees from other ethnic groups in Burma. Because of the employment opportunity and family reunion, Omaha currently has the largest and fastest-growing Karen populations in the U.S. (Source: Karen Society of Nebraska, Inc.)
The Heartland Family Service Refugee Advocate Program had already built capacity and a service delivery approach within the Karen community. The majority of clients had been refugees from several different parts of the world, but with a recent influx of Karen refugees, more resources were focused within this population. The Karen refugees, similar to other refugee populations, face difficulty around accessing services and finding culturally informed case management.
The Heartland Family Service Refugee Advocate Program and Project Harmony Missing Youth Services partnered to identify missing youth from the Karen community and tailor services to these youth and their families. With the help of the Omaha Police Department and Omaha Public schools, 77 youth and their families received assistance in the first year of the partnership. Those served showed a decrease in runaway incidents and the overall number of missing youth from the Karen community continued to decrease as the prevention program grew and evolved.
Over the past two years, the collaboration has transitioned from a reactionary program in response to missing youth reports to prevention by providing wraparound services to refugee families with children who are at risk of running away from home. The Refugee Advocate Program continues its work with the Karen community youth and is also now serving populations from nine different languages.