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Irene Routte ’08

Home Assessment and Follow-Up Case Manager for Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth, The Children’s Village

There are various reasons why majoring in religion as an undergraduate will be a great benefit to your Princeton experience. First, the religion department is smaller than other departments so you’re more likely to receive more individualized support from professors. It is also a department that is truly interdisciplinary. This was important for me because as I took my first few classes in the politics department, I realized that I could not talk about the issues that interested me in the language or with the intention I wanted. I was interested in studying social movements and community development, and the calculated case studies I found in the politics department weren’t enough for me. I wanted to include in my research the ways people expressed themselves, the pain and joy that accompanied these social and political processes. The classes I took in the religion department allowed me to do this because in almost any paper or precept post I could be creative in my choice of authors, articles, and ideas to include. 

But is religion really beneficial in terms of career choice? Absolutely. One key thing I learned through all my classes in the religion department is that values inform belief systems, and these beliefs generate rituals or behaviors. Therefore, if you understand a person’s core values, you can begin to understand their behavior. This is an idea that has stuck with me, and as I reflect on my career to this point, I see how much it has helped me in my work.

Building on core values

My first position after graduating was at a nonprofit in Seattle, Washington. I wrote curriculum and taught social justice history, hip-hop poetry, and visual art classes, as well as provided mentoring for at-risk immigrant youth. These were youth who had been in gangs in their country of origin, or immigrant youth who were in or at risk of joining a gang in Seattle.

I used the concept of values informing beliefs, which inform behavior, on a daily basis with the youth I worked with in and outside my classes. The majority of the kids were either here in this country alone with no family, or came from homes with little or no family support. Most, consciously or unconsciously, joined gangs because the other gang members were the only people in their lives who treated them with a semblance of love, or at least a feeling of respect. The core value these kids held was the relationship one finds in family. My role then was to help these youth identify this core value and help them believe that there were other ways they could meet and act out this value in positive ways.

Currently I work as a home assessment and follow-up case manager for unaccompanied immigrant youth. These are youth who have come into the United States alone and without documentation. After being detained and sent to a detention center by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, their case is processed and they wait to be released to a family member or other sponsor. I perform suitability assessments of the sponsor’s home and relationship with the child and then make a recommendation to the Office of Refugee Resettlement whether the minor should or should not be released to the sponsor in question. If and when the minor is released, I then provide counseling and follow-up services. A lot of my job is providing psychoeducation to families who may have ideas about parenting that conflict with Child Protective Services or U.S. social norms. What I have found to be so important in any work in the social service field is to assure the people you are talking with that you are not trying to change their values. You’re assisting them in modifying a belief or behavior so that the basic value can be acted out or met in a healthier or more attuned way depending on their circumstances. 

It is because I studied religion that I learned this skill of reading, understanding, and relating to people’s beliefs, rituals, and value systems. It is a skill I practice every day with the youth and families I meet, and I know I will continue to use it in more effective ways as my career develops in the future.