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Former Educator Says Refugee Students in Southern Kentucky Need Better Mental Health Resources

Adam Hatcher/GEO International

Educators in the Bowling Green and Warren County school systems worry there’s a growing need for mental health resources aimed at helping refugee students. Many of those students living in southern Kentucky are adjusting to their new lives after facing trauma in their previous homes.

When refugees arrive in the United States, they’ve often been living in refugee camps for a decade or more.

Former Warren County educator Skip Cleavinger said students who are coming from war-torn areas often aren’t prepared to learn. That's because many of them are still dealing with the trauma of being forced out of their home country. 

A community partnership group Cleavinger has helped organize is planning to form a smaller group focused on mental health issues in the refugee and immigrant community. He admits there are some challenges with providing that care to such a diverse group.

“When families need to go to counseling, or children need to talk about the issues that they’re having, we really need for language to kind of get out of the way. So we need a really strong interpreter, then come issues of confidentiality.”

Cleavinger says different cultures have unique ways of thinking about mental health issues; some view it as embarrassing or something that shouldn’t be discussed.

He said another challenge is for the local native-born community to better understand the kinds of trauma experienced by many refugee students now attending school in southern Kentucky.

“I’ve never seen anyone killed in front of me, but a lot of these kids have. I’ve never been kidnapped, but some of these kids have been kidnapped or their family members were kidnapped.”

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