Federal funding boost will help Utah refugees Rescue » New money allows for expanding staff and shrinking caseloads. By Julia Lyon The Salt Lake Tribune After 15 years at a refugee camp in Kenya, Ali Amin arrived in 2007 in Utah, where he felt lost and afraid of the snow. His 11-member family -- the grandmother is now 102 -- included a child who was so sick that Amin didn't think he would ever walk. But his son is exploring the world on his own two feet these days, and his father, emboldened by a driver license, is doing the same thing behind the wheel. The Somali refugee family credits much of their success to the devotion of its case manager at the International Rescue Committee. "I think if Stacey weren't helping us, we would not survive," Amin said Friday through an interpreter. The family benefitted from special long-term case management, which, starting this month, all new refugees will receive. Thanks to federal dollars, Utah's resettlement organizations were able to hire a large number of new staff, who will guide and supervise refugees during their first two years in America. The goal is to foster independence and ensure families aren't overlooked. This is a massive shift in a system that critics say has previously left many refugees feeling abandoned and neglected. Minimal funding meant staffers were overwhelmed and unable to provide more than basic help. Under the previous system, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Catholic Community Services (CCS) welcomed refugees, found them a place to live and helped connect them to services, such as food stamps and health insurance. After about 6 months, refugee cases were transferred to the Asian Association, where a staff member was responsible for as many as 130 individuals and families. Critics say some refugees received too little, if any, help. "We were putting 'band-aids' on problems," said Lina Smith, director at the Utah Refugee Center based at the association. "We absolutely didn't have the staff to do proper case management." All three groups have expanded staff thanks to about $2 million per year in federal welfare and social service dollars for the two-year experimental program. Thanks to nine new employees, Smith's staff members each now have between 35 and 40 cases. Families will be matched with case managers who speak the same language. At all the agencies, Iraqi, Burmese and Bhutanese staff have been hired, because those are the largest refugee groups expected this year. Visiting refugees' homes will happen more frequently, something that was often unrealistic for frantic workers before. "They couldn't even have lunch," Smith said. Stacey Shaw, who worked with Amin's family as an IRC long-term case manager, helped them with a variety of challenges, from re-enrolling the kids in school to making doctor's appointments. Her goal was to empower the family to be self-sufficient, and that's begun to happen. Now Amin can go to the pharmacy alone. He made a doctor's appointment this week without any help. "A big part of it is being able to develop a relationship with the family," she said. Starting March 1, IRC began to keep all its new cases for two years. CCS will continue to transfer its cases to the Asian Association after six months, but the additional staff will allow the association to give the new refugees increased attention during the following year and a half. The goal is for agencies' caseload to drop to about 20 per case manager. Before the move, stories abounded of refugees who hadn't seen their caseworkers for a long time and didn't know how to get help, explained Gerald Brown, the director of Utah's new refugee services office. With long-term case management, that is expected to stop. "We've got contracts with all three [agencies], and we're going to monitor them," he said. Staff morale is high at CCS, said Aden Batar, resettlement director. An additional boon will come when some refugee families begin to receive new housing subsidies this year, decreasing monthly rent pressure. "With these two things working together, then I think we can work with the families on long-term issues," he said, citing English skills as an example. His counterpart at IRC, Patrick Poulin, believes this is the direction refugee programs "need to go." "Hopefully it's something the new administration will look at," he said. http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_11968051 firstname.lastname@example.org
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