On 3/7/01 we held our Professional Forum,
which was well-attended by court staff. The program consisted
of a presentation by Vuthy Nol-Mantia LICSW, about Cambodian
culture and the history of the Cambodian diaspora and immigration
through Thai refugee camps to Lynn. Mr. Nol-Manthia described
the Lynn Khmer population as consisting largely of former
rural peasants with a low level of literacy, and profoundly
traumatized by the state terror and famine of the Khmer Rouge
period. He explained the people's fear of government agents
(including the court), their limited understanding of American
institutions and mores, and their difficulty knowing how to
respond when their children have difficulty in school or become
Word-of-mouth feedback from participants
was very positive. Unfortunately we did not use a formal evaluation
form. We would include an evaluation form if we were to do
another professional training. We also held two planning meetings
for our upcoming Parent Forum where we plan to build relationships
with Khmer parents whose children are involved with the Court
or with DSS. This event is scheduled for Friday, June 15 from
10:30 to 12:00 at the Lynn Community Multi-Cultural Center
There are no major areas of concern at
this time. It may not be possible to translate and print Juvenile
Court brochures in Khmer by the end of the grant period. The
Parent Forum will impose a heavy burden on language interpreters,
since few of the families speak much English, and they may
not have time to complete a final translation of the brochure.
Khmer professionals on our steering group also inform us that
few of the families read the Khmer language. Therefore we
may need to focus for the present on live interpreting during
our face-to-face meeting with parents. Translation of the
brochure remains an important goal, however, that we still
hope to accomplish within the grant period. Our project collaboratively
involves DSS, the office of the DA, and the juvenile bar advocates.
The Family Forum will directly involve Khmer families in an
opportunity to meet and talk with Juvenile Court personnel.
reports discussed our collaborative planning process and our
well-attended Professional Forum, which occurred March 7.
These events laid the foundation for our Family Forum, which
we held on June 15 from 10:30 to 12:00 at the Lynn Community
40 people attended the Family Forum. The majority of these
were court personnel and staff from the Khmer youth and Family
Center, rather than families, as follows (approximate counts):
Youth and Family Center
we made an effort to schedule around end-of-year school events,
we learned on the day of the event that several invited families
could not attend due to a conflict with an eighth-grade graduation
we wished for more families, it appeared to be a pleasant
and helpful event for those parents who attended.
brought her five young children! As one might imagine the
room was alive with the activities of the children as well
as with conversation in both English and Khmer.
member from the Khmer youth and Family Center interpreted
for the speakers and the audience. Although this was a cumbersome
process, it also highlighted both the barriers that language
creates as well as the fact that we can overcome these barriers
(with both verbal and nonverbal language). Some of the warmest
and most humorous moments involved mutual efforts to communicate.
We discovered that many of the Khmer speakers understand some
English and speak some English. We also found that some concepts
are not easily translated across cultures, even for fluently
bilingual speakers. Finally, we found that having young children
in the room reminded us of a universal language of gesture
brief presentations from the judges, probation, victim witness,
juvenile diversion, DSS and the court clinic. It is not clear
whether the audience understood all of the content, but one
consistent message was clear: "we would like to help you and
we want you to feel free to talk to us." Among the questions
posed by the audience:
- "What can I do about my son who is
in DSS foster care and is smoking and seems unsupervised?"
(The parent was directed to speak to a Khmer-speaking DSS
worker who was present.)
- "My son gets more aggressive when his
medication wears off. What should I do?" (A court clinician
spoke individually with the mother about talking with her
son's psychiatrist, and about behavior management techniques
that might also help.)
- "How can people ask questions when
the judge is busy and there is no translator?" (We suggested
that probation and the court clinic could respond to many
questions. The problem of translation is not easily circumvented,
but speakers made it clear that they are willing to communicate
using any available means, including working through nonprofessional
- "What can I do when the school keeps
suspending my child?" (Although the court had no jurisdiction
in this case, the court clinic expressed willingness to
help connect the family with appropriate helpers).
the Family Forum was designed to make families more informed
and comfortable in dealing with the court, it also had a positive
impact on court staff, who clearly enjoyed the event's positive
feel. It offered a wonderful opportunity for court staff to
work with the staff from the Khmer Youth and Family Center,
strengthening relationships that will help to bridge the gap
between the court and the community.
not accomplished our goal of producing Juvenile Court brochures
in Khmer. Khmer professionals on our steering group informed
us that few of the families read the Khmer language.
Given the heavy burden for oral interpreting for the Family
Forum, we deferred translation of written materials. We still
consider this an important goal and we will continue to pursue
this goal beyond the end of the grant period.
involved DSS, DYS, the office of the DA (Asst. District Attys.,
Juvenile Diversion and Victim Witness), and the juvenile bar
advocates. We worked closed with the Khmer Youth and Family
Center, which is likely to be the nucleus for future community
development for Lynn's Cambodian population.
of the Family Forum was to introduce Khmer-speaking families
to the Juvenile Court's mission, methods, and staff. It was
our hope that this event would have the following impact:
Reduce community fear of the Court and its personnel. This
is an important goal for historical reasons related to the
Cambodian terror under the Khmer Rouge, and to the high
degree of psychological traumatization in the Khmer immigrant
Improve community understanding of how the Court functions
and how to use the Court.
Provide feedback from the Khmer community to the Court on
how to improve services to the community.
Increased court personnel awareness of language / cultural
on family members' comments during the forum, the Family Forum
was clearly helpful in building trusting relationships between
Khmer family members and court staff. Because just a few families
attended, however, we did not reach much of the Khmer community.
We hope that families will spread the word to their neighbors.
It has been our experience with other isolated immigrant groups
that word-of-mouth recommendations can be a very potent process
for building relationships.
not clear whether participants really understood much more
about the functions of the court relating to CHINS, delinquency
and C&P cases. The families seemed to get the basic messages,
however: that the Juvenile Court functions in the best interest
of children and that court staff have a helpful attitude.
We hope that this will provide the basis for further communication
we received included the following:
have many questions about how to help their children. Although
these questions often involve matters beyond the court's
legal jurisdiction, it is helpful to families that court
staff members are willing to provide information and referrals
to appropriate helpers.
appeared especially pleased to be addressed by the judges,
and to learn that the judges care about their families and
children. Judicial participation in events such as this
is very important.
do not really understand how the system works. Having interpreters
available for court appearances does little to help with
day-to-day language barriers. We need to continue to look
for ways that families can pick up the phone and get questions
answered. One route might be to develop a liaison program
with an organization with the Khmer Youth and Family Center.
Another approach would be to hire Khmer speakers to work
in probation and the court clinic.
said they would like us to repeat the event so their neighbors
under the mini-grant this year were just one step in building
relationships between the court and the Khmer community. We
understood from the beginning that we would need to continue
this effort in the future, and interlock it with other Khmer
community development efforts. (For example, we hope that
our collaboration with the Khmer Youth and Family Center has
also helped the Center in its efforts to raise its profile
and demonstrate its ability to bring together the community.)
phase went well, involving numerous stakeholders from the
court, DSS and the community.
Forum was successful, but again we believe that this must
be repeated on a regular (perhaps annual) basis in order to
have a sustained impact.
Forum was the most gratifying of the activities, but we were
disappointed to have few families attend. This was partly
due to a scheduling conflict with a school event, despite
our efforts to find an open time. It is important to repeat
the event on a regular basis, to give many families a chance
to attend and to build the visibility of the event.
(In this report, the terms Khmer and Cambodian are used synonymously.
We have learned that "Khmer" is a preferred term among members
of the Khmer community, but "Cambodian" is the better-known
term among English speakers. It seems appropriate to use both.)