One of the most important things that schools and early childhood programs can do to support immigrant families is to help keep accurate emergency contact records. It is essential that schools and early childhood programs not only gather emergency contact records for each child but also make it easy for families to update them as needed and provide frequent reminders to do so.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of helping families keep their contact information updated so that schools can share updates and information about distance learning. In order to keep in touch with families:
- Keep in mind that families' housing and economic situations may be unstable during this time, making it harder to stay in contact. Families who use prepaid cell phones may also change phone numbers regularly.
- Ensure that ELL and immigrant families know how to contact the school (either through their child's teacher or an interpreter).
- Ask families their preferred method of contact, whether via phone, email, text, or video call, as well as the best time of day to be in touch. (Many schools use the TalkingPoints app for family communication, although some families have expressed a preference for texting over WhatsApp.)
- If needed, share information with colleagues, administrators, and families about families' rights to information from the school in their home language. Talk with colleagues about what the school is doing to ensure families have access to information in their language.
For more tips and information, see:
- How Schools Can Communicate with ELL Families During COVID-19
- How COVID-19 Is Impacting ELL and Immigrant Families
Educators who have experienced immigration raids or enforcement in their community say that keeping families' contact information updated is one of the most critical steps educators can take on behalf of immigrant families.
This step can make a significant difference in the outcome of a family’s situation where questions of legal guardianship are at stake. Children of detained parents/guardians can end up in foster care, as seen in this family’s story from NPR.
How to Make It Easier for Families to Update Information
- Ask for multiple contacts of trusted adults for each student, as well as for older siblings. Be diligent about collecting this information at the beginning of the school year or when the child enrolls, and explain applicable privacy laws regarding personal information.
- Review your contact forms and procedures from the point of view of ELL/immigrant families. For example, translate emergency contact forms and help immigrant families understand what they are, through an interpreter or parent liaison if necessary.
- Include reminders to update contact information in all school- or district-wide communications and events so that immigrant families don't feel singled out.
- Ensure that families have instructions on how to update their contact information. Confirm that they understand those instructions.
- Keep in mind that online systems may not be easy for families to access without a device or internet access.
- Even if families are reluctant to share contact information, or seem to be moving frequently, encourage them to keep their information current.
- In the event that parents can’t be reached and staff suspect they may have been detained or deported, train staff and administrators to follow all parental instructions and exhaust contact options to find a “known caretaker in a safe environment” (Stanford Law School & CCSA, 2017, p. 17) in an effort to minimize referrals to child protective services. (See related state legislation addressing this issue in California’s Assembly Bill 699, passed in 2017.)
- Share these recommendations with school and district administrators as needed.
Note: See additional information about making a plan to care for children whose parent may be unavailable, as well as guides that can help prepare families prepare for separation, in our section about legal resources that may be available to immigrant families as they review their situations.