April 23, 2019
As a former refugee from Somalia who grew up in Libya, then moved to Egypt, and eventually emigrated to the U.S. at 13, Sadia Said knows that many factors had to align for her to succeed in this country. She understands the power of people helping people. So when she started at San Diego State University, she knew she didn't want to teach children, but she did want to help them.
"At first, I thought social work was only about resettlement. Later I realized you could work at a school, in a hospital. Everybody needs help." When she learned about United Way's Every Student, Every Day absence-intervention initiative—where interns work to understand issues facing students and their families, with support from the school site, clinical supervision, and weekly coaching—it seemed like a perfect fit. "I'm a childcare provider with a daycare center in my home, so I already work with kids. I liked that the program involves kids, parents, school staff … a little bit of everything."
That "little bit of everything" would play a key role as her new internship at Central Elementary in City Heights unfolded.
"I had a first-grader on my caseload, Delia, who was, hesitant to tell me what was going on at the beginning. She kept asking me if I was a social worker—I found out she'd had a negative experience with one. As we continued to see each other — it took five meetings before I found out what was going on in her house — she started opening up, telling me things. She was witnessing troubling incidents and experiencing it herself, which made her afraid to go home. I wasn't sure what to report, what to say."
Sadia consulted with her supervisor, United Way's Impact Manager, Nina Ghatan, MSW. Together, they decided to report it.
Later that day, the front desk told Sadia Delia's mother was there to pick up her child. "We weren't sure if we should send her home with her." Luckily, Central Elementary Principal Liz Duvall intervened to talk with the parent, who only spoke Spanish, acting as a liaison to explain "mandated reporting." (That policy dictates certain professions—like teachers and principals—are legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to authorities.)
"At first I thought [the mother] wouldn't be very helpful, but she was supportive of the idea; she wanted what was best for her daughter." Dad and a brother were fighting in front of Delia. Mom was aware but didn't know how to fix it or where to go. "She didn't realize how much it had impacted her daughter, who was the youngest in the family. When we met with Delia's mother, she told us she was looking for a therapist for the entire family. Principal Duvall made a referral to Douglas Young [Youth and Family Services, offering crisis intervention, individual, family, and group therapy] so the family could get help."
"Everyone at school was so helpful," Sadia continues. "But it was scary." With additional logistical support from the school site, as well as clinical supervision and weekly coaching, Sadia found her way toward helping Delia.
"Originally we had a certain view based on what Delia was telling Sadia," adds United Way's Nina Ghatan, "including that the mother had been in prison. It turns out, it was because of immigration, which added another layer to the story. We became even more empathetic."
And as more layers were uncovered, more preventions were put in place to protect Delia. Now, the school social worker is aware of Delia's situation and helps out when Sadia isn't available.
"Sadia has grown so much," Ghatan reflects. "In just a few months, she's gone from a nervous young woman to an insightful investigator."
"I was a little unsure when I started," Sadia adds. "I didn't realize the value of what I was bringing to the school." Sadia also acts as a translator for the Arabic- and Somali-speaking parents at Central. "Now I know I'm doing something important, and my confidence has really gone up."
UWSD's Every Student, Every Day initiative offers a set of interventions to increase school attendance and close the achievement gap by facilitating partnerships between schools, universities, community providers, families, and students. United Way collaborates closely with elementary schools in the San Diego region to improve outcomes for local children and their families. Every Student, Every Day has consistently produced positive results for children and families, including increased attendance for participating students.