Award will enable expansion of the agency’s Trauma Systems Therapy for Refugee Youth initiative, support multiple refugee communities, and add jobs.

BUFFALO, NY (July 15, 2021) – Jewish Family Services of Western New York (JFS) is announcing that it is the recipient of a $2 million, 5-year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The grant is part of a $62 million package extended to more than 100 centers nationwide to fulfill the goals of the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCTSI).

Refugees experience trauma for a variety of reasons that lead to voluntary or involuntary departure from their home country. Spending significant periods of time in refugee camps, families that are approved for migration to the United States experience compounded emotional stress and anxiety related to the shock of a new culture, lack of language skills, minimum work experience, and much more. Youth, with even more limited and underdeveloped coping skills, are often unable to cope with their new environments and have an inherent distrust of authority and helping organizations. The statistics bear this out with a refugee youth PTSD rate of 50-90% compared to adult refugees, according to Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center.

Launched in 2020, Trauma Systems Therapy for Refugee Youth (TST-R) is a multi-phased initiative to respond to the need for services required to address the complex mental health needs of these young refugees. “As a nation of immigrants, including refugees, and with values that support caring for each other as a matter of humanity, we cannot expect recent arrivals to leave their past behind them and be successful without allowing them to process what has happened to them,” said JFS CEO Dr. Molly S. Carr, adding “we must provide them with the tools to cope with their traumatic pasts while gaining the confidence needed to be successful members of the community at large. This award will do so much towards achievement of these objectives, and we are grateful.”

The $2 million award funds 100% of the next five years’ initial budget and will enable JFS to conduct outreach and education, clinical youth therapy, and family-based support services to more than 2,000 individuals. A previously conducted research study indicated that the primary communities of need in the Buffalo Metro Area are Bhutanese, Somali, Congolese, Iraqi, and Syrian. Each community will be assigned a cultural broker who is a member of the community, including speaking the language. They will assist in bridging the gaps between language, education, services available, and ultimately referrals for clinical support.
The first cultural broker was transferred into her role from the agency’s Refugee Resettlement Program in early 2021. This was made possible in advance of this SAMHSA award due to pilot program funding received through private contributions and a private foundation.

Bijoux Bahati, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was a refugee herself and arrived in the United States in 2004. Prior to her arrival, she lived in a refugee camp in Tanzania, forced from the DRC due to civil war. Her story is one of success, having completed a master’s degree in social work at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. As a cultural broker, Ms. Bahati is working with Congolese youth within partner entity, Buffalo Public Schools’ Lafayette International High School. It is there that most refugee youth in the city attend school.

Ms. Bahati cannot think of a better way to support this next generation from afar than acting as a liaison for their social and mental health needs, leveraging her own experiences to help guide them. “I want to be a familiar and trusting face for these young people because acculturating in a new country is a very complicated process,” she said, adding “cultural brokering is a great opportunity to voice concerns about barriers that limit accessing much needed support, raise awareness and encourage seeking services they need in making a successful transition to new life.

The funding announced today will allow for the hiring of two additional cultural brokers as well as a mental health clinician trained in Trauma Systems Therapy. “We are thrilled that we are able to contribute to the local job market,” Dr. Carr said, “we are an agency in growth mode because of the real need for the services we offer.”

Partnerships have also been established with the Boston Children’s Hospital Center for Trauma and Community Resilience Center, who will serve as consultant and provider of the evidence model. Locally, additional partnerships to support referral and community access include Best Self Behavioral Health, International Institute of Buffalo, and Journey’s End Refugee Services.

JFS of Western New York is a 501(c)(3) non-profit agency specializing in community, clinical, and care services. Its mission is to partner with families, individuals, and children of all beliefs and backgrounds to help them succeed in transition and overcome the challenges of everyday life.