Protecting and Supporting Students Far from Home

Protecting Students Who Are Learning Far from HomeTwo teachers at a private tutoring academy in Queens are facing allegations that they assaulted students as punishment for getting bad grades or misbehaving in class. New York Assemblyman Ron Kim and Senator Toby Stavisky are advocating legislation that would provide closer oversight over these private academies, which often teach children whose parents send them to the United States to get an education. We spoke with Dr. Anderson Sungmin Yoon, project director of The Child Center’s Asian Outreach Program, to get his thoughts about how we can better protect children and prevent child maltreatment.

The Child Center: Many of the children in private tutoring academies are being sent from South Korea to get an education in the United States and are living in a new country without their parents. What are some of the unique challenges these kids are facing and what are their needs?

Dr. Yoon: In past decades, thousands of Korean children have come to the United States and New Zealand and Australia each year without their parents. They’re young—7, 8 or 9 years old—and they need their own parents. Some South Korean parents realize this is not helpful for their own children so the numbers have decreased over the past few years, but parents are still sending their kids, putting their care and development in the hands of strangers.

In terms of emotional needs and development, every child should receive proper validation and actual listening and caring. If they don’t receive that, when they grow up they find it hard to relate to other people and communicate with others in an appropriate way.

What are some of the ways we’re able to help the emotional health and development of children like this at The Child Center?

The Child Center’s Asian Outreach Program offers a parenting skills training group, parenting consultation and coaching, and counseling for those who are experiencing difficulties with their own children. Korean parents learn the importance of child emotional development, which is a linchpin in healthy child development. It helps them resolve parent-child conflicts and learn effective parenting skills to promote psychological health and strengthen parent-child relationships. The positive child-parent interactions promote the healthy emotional development of children.

Elected officials have proposed background checks and an abuse hotline to protect children who are being educated through private tutoring academies. What do you think about these ideas?

As counselors and teachers, we must go through intensive background checks. Why not require the same for tutors in private academies? If someone has a history of child abuse and child endangerment he cannot teach and cannot take care of children.

The hotline is also a wonderful idea. In the past, one of my clients claimed that he was physically abused by one of his teachers at the private academies. When I called the Administration for Children’s Services hotline to report it, they said I should call the police because their hotline only handles abuse by parents or guardians. I called the police, but I think if we had a hotline and a system to report abuse by teachers, we could reduce this child abuse and maltreatment. We can also mandate that teachers in the private academies receive training about child neglect and maltreatment.

Assemblyman Kim, who is a Korean-American, said some Korean-Americans see these punitive methods as a normal way of educating kids: “That’s a mindset that we need to change as a community. Beating kids up and punishing them is not effective. It’s not motivating them to get into Harvard.” As an Asian-American, what do you think about that?

I came to this country when I was 29 years old so I’m a first-generation American. When I was a child in Korea, corporal punishment was common. Teachers hit us if we did poorly on tests. Our parents disciplined us the same way at home. Many Koreans really value academic success, and children are pushed to study when they are in kindergarten or elementary school. Today, many Korean parents push their kids to achieve by hitting their kids, the same discipline skills and strategies they experienced.

But we know now that child abuse and child maltreatment are really detrimental to the child’s development. Parents and teachers are using corporal punishment to improve academic success, but research says it does the opposite.

How can we help parents find more positive ways of interacting with their kids?

The way to combat this trend is by educating parents about the negative effects of corporal punishment, and by helping them learn what works. In my dissertation study, I found that parents who were abused as children were far more likely to abuse their own children. On the other hand, parent who were educated about child abuse and neglect were less likely to be abusive. This outcome suggests that we have to provide parents with more workshops and other educational opportunities so that they can learn about the negative impacts of abuse and practice alternative skills and strategies. Community based organizations like The Child Center of NY or other agencies can provide workshops giving general education about child abuse and maltreatment.

Dr. Anderson Sungmin Yoon, DSW, LCSW-R, CASAC, RPT-S, is a project director at The Child Center’s Asian Outreach Program. He has expertise in mental health services and alcohol and drug addiction treatment, and has accumulated more than 14 years of full-time practice experiences. Dr. Yoon received his doctorate in clinical social work from the University of Pennsylvania.  

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