Immigrant families vary by ethnicity, social class, country of origin, education, immigration circumstances and status, language, religion, employment, and a host of other factors. The greater the difference between the culture of origin and the new environment, the longer lasting the culture shock from immigrating is apt to be, distorting almost every aspect of daily life and complicating efforts to obtain an accurate assessment of parenting. Immigrant families who are undocumented also live in constant fear of deportation, and refugees must cope with the aftereffects of the trauma they have suffered.
Migration has an isolating effect on many families, cutting them off from their traditional sources of support and exposing them to discrimination. Although teachers and school counselors can be key players in the prevention and detection of child abuse, children may refuse to confide in them if they perceive the schools as alien or even hostile.
There is no reason to assume higher rates of child abuse among immigrant than native-born families. However, immigrant families may be at increased risk of reports to child protection authorities due to their visibility, a tendency to punish misbehaviors in public rather than in private, misunderstandings with professionals, and parenting norms that conflict with those of the dominant culture. The more educated and acculturated a family is, the closer its child rearing norms are likely to be to those of the mainstream culture.
Immigrant parents often do not know what is expected of them but are still punished by the child protective system when they fail to comply with unwritten cultural expectations. Language and cultural barriers make it difficult for immigrant families to access resources, take advantage of services, and comply with treatment plans. Cultural competency training can help professionals in the field learn to reach out to immigrant families more effectively.
Caring immigrant parents sometimes avoid mainstream health care and opt for their traditional medicine, in the belief that this is the best way to heal their children or protect them from illness. Jurisdictions vary in how they handle instances where the family’s traditional medicine has failed to improve the child’s condition or has harmed the child.
Immigrant families caught in the child welfare system often fail to comprehend the system that has taken over their lives; such a system may not exist in their home countries. The problems for immigrant families in the child welfare system are exacerbated by a serious shortage of interpreters and translated material at government and private agencies. In most circumstances immigrant families have the legal right to services in their preferred language or interpreters.
The literature on child maltreatment in immigrant families is becoming increasingly fine-tuned and specific, with suggestions for working with people from particular immigrant groups, handling language difference, and collaborating with community-based agencies. Research on issues and problems concerning child abuse and immigrant families is still underdeveloped and marred by serious problems in delimiting and defining the sample, choosing concepts with cross-cultural relevance, and translating instruments.
- Fontes, L. A. (2005). Working with immigrant families affected by child maltreatment. In L. A. Fontes, Child abuse and culture: Working with diverse families (pp. 30–58). New York: Guilford Press.
- Maiter, S., Alaggia, R., & Trocmé, N. (2004). Perceptions of child maltreatment by parents from the Indian subcontinent: Challenging myths about culturally based abusive parenting practices. Child Maltreatment, 9, 309–324.
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