Refugee Youth Voices: Strategies You Should be Using as a Youth-Serving Professional

By: Jieun Sung

This is the seventh post in a the Refugee Youth Voices series that is uplifting the voices of young people with refugee- and immigrant-backgrounds.


  • This post is part of the Refugee Youth Voices blog series, a partnership with the Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence (R_PEACE) coalition, where young people with immigrant backgrounds are sharing their experiences. 
  • As a doctoral student, I am interested in understanding the educational and overall integration experiences of immigrant youth and families, and I teach undergraduate courses that consider how people in diverse, multicultural societies envision the purpose(s) of education and navigate formal schooling. 
  • In this blog, I share strategies and approaches for developing/conducting research, youth programming, and other initiatives with and for refugee and immigrant youth.
Youth in classroom
Source: Canva

The Refugee Youth Voices blog series has been both enlightening and important as we think about the diversity of young people in the United States today. In previous youth-authored posts, Sue Mar shared her experiences of how language and historical traditions have been significant to her life and identity, how she has come to understand and contextualize her past experiences, and how schools and teachers in three distinct settings have shaped her learning. Geeti shared key aspects of her family’s journey from Afghanistan to Kyrgyzstan and then to the United States, and the significance of their experiences of insecurity, change, and adaptation across multiple contexts.

Sue Mar’s and Geeti’s experiences highlight the importance for all refugee youth to experience: 

  • a sense of security and safety. 
  • feeling seen and understood across home, family, and school contexts. 
  • access to robust academic and language support. 
  • empathy and social and emotional support across the trajectory of transition.

Their perspectives can also provide valuable context for guidance in thinking about how to effectively and sensitively recognize and support the needs of refugee children and youth. So what can you do if you are in a youth-serving role? 

Here are some expected outcomes and specific strategies you should be thinking about if you are a researcher, practitioner, youth-serving professional and other key stakeholder who may engage with refugee youth and families:

Acknowledge their Past

  • Recognize unique aspects of historical, linguistic, and cultural traditions, circumstances, and experiences across displacement and resettlement (e.g., instability, uncertainty). 
  • Examine ways that fragmented formal education may shape refugee youth needs in school and community settings. 
  • Recognize overall life stories and trajectories of refugee youth and families, and their implications for youth adjustment, learning, identity formation, and belonging. 
  • Understand the multifaceted needs and experiences of refugee students, including a broader contextual recognition of home and family relationships, challenges, roles, and responsibilities. 
  • Recognize and draw on refugee youths’ resilience, capacity for hope and optimism, and ability to adapt to challenging circumstances as valuable resources and assets.

Build Genuine Relationships 

  • Facilitate opportunities for refugee youth to form positive, supportive relationships with both peers and adults through robust and consistent connections around shared interests, such as formal mentoring programs or other meaningful social settings. 
  • Recognize that refugee youth are the experts of their own experiences, and then value their expertise by creating opportunities to engage in their own meaning-making. 
  • Create opportunities to actively contribute to the development and implementation of research projects (e.g., YPAR), policy formation and advocacy, and relevant programs and initiatives.

Uplift their Voices 

  • Appreciate the importance of empowerment and control over their own experiences and lives by including refugee youth in decision-making that impacts them. 
  • Incorporate the voices of refugee youth in all goal-setting for youth programming, research initiatives, and more.
  • Design program assessments to elicit, respond to, and incorporate the in-depth feedback of refugee youth participants to ensure programmatic effectiveness and support for their ongoing social, emotional, and psychological development.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email [email protected]. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Jieun Sung
Jieun Sung is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Social Foundations program at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development. Her work is broadly concerned with ways that education, schooling, ethical formation, and the preparation of individuals to participate in social, cultural, political, and civic life are interrelated. She is particularly interested in the educational experiences of newcomer families and the significance of non-school contexts as influential sites for youth development. Her current research explores how immigrant families’ experiences of education, cultural adaptation, and overall adjustment are shaped by interactions with significant community organizations and networks.