Podcast Episode: At Home Abroad exhibition
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MD - Michelle Drumm
DS - Daniele Sime
DS This exhibition is one of a series of events that we are organising for practitioners and general public policymakers, through a knowledge exchange programme of activities funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The exhibition is an interactive, very visual child centred model of thinking about a topic which is often quite controversial and a lot of people will have different opinions on, bringing together people who are migrants, non-migrants, people who have positive or less positive views on migration, perhaps challenging stereo types that people might have about what migrants are like and what experiences of migration are, what are peoples reasons for migrating. So having part mediated process of disseminating research and looking at how visual materials can connect with the general public has been a novel idea in our research. We found that using art to connect with audiences that might not read research reports, might not think about research on migration, but still want to engage with a debate of what migration is for, what migration is like for newly arrived families and for people who are settled, is a very useful way of engaging the general public in the debate.
There aren’t many opportunities for children to express themselves in issues that matter to us all and migration is often an issue that is debated by adults, politicians, the media, and what the exhibition does is to show that children are aware of the big debates that the societies engage in, and more importantly they have very valuable experiences to share, very important views to put forward in relation to, for example how services could be improved for them, and what things could be done to make our society more inclusive and tolerant to diversity.
The exhibition has four themes, one is Arrivals and Departures, looking at what the experience of migration would be like before children have even departed. What objects children would take with them, who migrates from the family, what are the things the children need to leave behind. The second theme is Home, Culture and Identity, looking at what home means, were home is, if home can be everywhere and anywhere or if there is one specific place that children need to call home. The third theme is children’s families and friendships, and in the exhibition, children looked at how migration means an effort in terms of keeping relationships going with family and friends back home, what is the role of technologies in that process, social media and some which children use quite often to keep in touch with old friends. And also what it means to make new friends in the new country and how challenging that is. And how important friendships are for children everywhere. The last thing we looked at in the exhibition was the theme of Places, places that children go to after migration, places that they can access and places that they see as inaccessible or not open to newly arrived migrant children. Also places that mean something for children, they have an emotional value or an emotional attachment to them, maybe their new home or the local park where they are meeting friends, or any other spaces that have a particular significance for them.
MD A child’s poem expresses some of the feelings associated with migration.
DS Rain patter, shouting, kids shouting, ringing of bells, kids running, footsteps, rain patter, talking, shouting, loud noises, school, children, toys, clatter, cosy, small flat, only three people, me, Mum and Dad, bigger house more rooms, more people, me, Mum, Dad, brother and sister, better.
MD Daniele was also willing to speak to us about the ‘At Home Abroad’ research and the main findings.
DS The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the purpose of the research project was to look at the life experiences of Eastern European migrant children who have arrived in Scotland after the enlargement of the European Union, and with changes in demographics in Scotland, we thought that it was appropriate to look at how migrant families experienced migration and also how migration impacted on their lives. There is quite a lot of research on how adults experience migration and how migration impacts on, for example younger migrants, young adults, and their engagement with public services, their opportunities for employment, their decisions to stay in the country or return to their country of origin. But when we conducted this study there was very little research on migrant children, migrant in the UK and this being a relatively new phenomenon in Scotland, although there is a tradition of people migrating to Scotland after the second world war and so on, so there are some established ethnic minority groups, but with the increase of migration trends from Eastern Europe, the study focused on Eastern European migrant children recently arrived in Scotland, and we looked at 3 main areas. One was how children experienced migration and what was their involvement in family’s decision to migrate. The second was on how migration impacts on their family relationships and friendships, and the third one looked at children’s opportunities to engage with public and private services.
In the study we recruited 57 children from a range of nationalities, all newly arrived in Scotland with less than 3 years of time spent in Scotland, and what we did was to engage children in very child friendly type of activities to make them talk about what migration was like for them, how involved were they in the families decision to leave their country of origin, and then what was their life like after the migration in terms of family relationships, establishing new friendships, what was their main challenges in terms of adapting to life in Scotland. And finally what were their opportunities to engage with public services.
We also talked with a range of practitioners who were involved in providing services for migrant families and we had 19 service providers from a range of services like education, health, leisure, housing and voluntary and community workers, and 120 teachers who participated in focus group type of activities.
So what we found was that when it came to children’s experiences of migration, they had very little agency in the process of family migration, although many parents mentioned their children’s opportunities for a better future as being their main reason for family migration, so despite the fact that parents thought about their children’s future and they decided to migrate, most children said that they didn’t have a say in their families decision in terms of when to leave their country of origin, where they were coming to migrate to, and a timing of the migration. Although most families talked about timing the migration to take into account children’s schooling and the start of the school year.
Children’s experiences of migration varied considerably, so some of them talked in very positive terms about this has been a good experience for them and their family, but most of them experienced migration as something which was stressful, filled them with anxiety and worry about what life was going to be like and regret and disappointment of having to leave their family and friends behind.
MD A wigwam structure at the exhibition was used as a space for children to post their thoughts on migration. The inside of the wigwam was covered in Dear Diary entries. Here’s an example:
DS Dear Diary, we landed, blah, blah, blah, I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying, I felt embarrassed, I felt sick, I felt lonely. I could smell the petrol of the plane, I wanted to go back. I said “I want to go back”, my Gran said “no, we are not going back”.
MD She spoke about the factors that impacted on children’s experiences of migration.
DS We looked at what were the factors that impacted on children’s experiences of migration and one key factor was the changes in family social, economic circumstances. Sometimes for better, but others for worse. So parents sometimes well qualified were taking jobs that were under their level, under their level of qualification and skills, and this often meant they had to work longer hours with less time for their family. All families had someone in work, at least 1 parent in work, and this also impacted on the quality of the housing that families could afford, especially if they were working in kind of low skilled, low paid types of jobs.
The neighbourhood characteristics and how the families perceived the neighbourhood were really important factors influencing what children did in their spare time and what opportunities they had in terms of accessing local services. School was often mentioned as a positive environment for the children and we found that when it came to other services like leisure and health, there was much less use of these services by newly arrived migrant children. Sometimes this was to do with the perceived accessibility of public services, other times it was to do with lack of information and what the entitlements were, or how open services were for newly arrived migrants.
We also found that therapist provision varied considerably between local authorities, so some local authorities had better systems in place to support families soon after they have arrived, while in others, information and provision was more patchy.
School was the key service that children used and the quality of the school experience strongly influenced their perceptions of how the whole experience of migration was for their families. Parents and children had overall, very high educational aspirations for their children, and on occasions parents said that children were working below their level of ability in certain subjects. So there was a sense that sometimes children’s competence in the English language interfered with the assessment of their competence in the subjects that they were studying.
Children also reported substantial use of complementary schooling, often providing by Diaspora groups, so Saturday schools that children would attend, they’d keep in touch with their peers from their country of origin, but also to learn about their culture and to learn traditions or to maintain traditions that their families were very respectful of.
Church was very important for many of the children we spoke to, again providing a sense of cultural identity, especially for some Polish migrants, church featured quite highly in their type of leisure activities that they were engaged in.
Some children reported use of informal services like private violin or ballet lessons, and they were pursued more by the middle class families.
We found a families linguistic competence was a key issue in accessing public and private services. If children were more competent in English, they quite often acted as cultural brokers for their families, telling their parents which services were available in the area, giving them information that they accessed through their friends through the school, prompting parents to maybe make sure of local services, so in that sense children’s agency in accessing public services was very important.
An interesting phenomenon was also the transnational use of services. We found some families who were still keeping their doctors and dentists for example back home and they would make trips to their country of origin to see a, for example, a specialist that they were familiar with for child’s medical condition, or to get immediate access to medical services. There was a perception that services here might be too expensive or not available as soon as the parents wanted them, or they were different or parents didn’t know what entitlements were or what accessing these services would mean.
The main barriers mentioned in relation to accessing services were lack of information in their own language, uncertainty of the entitlement to services, the accessibility of services in terms of opening hours, location, transport available, and the different systems of provisions that families were used to, so not knowing what accessing the service entitles in terms of things like making appointments or having to speak to the service providers, what information to ask for and so on, what their relationship should be like with the service. Sometimes children’s lack of peer relationships immediately after arrival in the new country meant that they depended quite substantially on an adult to take them to places, while before migration they would have maybe a kind of open access to local services. Parents felt that in the new country, because of children’s perceived limited language skills or them not being familiar with the area or the country, they shouldn’t access local services like leisure centres or libraries on their own. So depending on an adult or someone else in the family, parent an older sibling was something that many children have mentioned.
When we spoke to service providers about the difficulties they encountered in providing a good service for migrant families, the main factors that they mentioned were lack of resources, lack of information on similar services in children’s country of origin and the language and cultural barriers. We found that many services were proactive in adapting the service to the needs of the new migrant groups, but some of them felt that more needed to be done to support services overall in terms of improving provision for newly arrived migrant groups.
One group that we have identified is that of migrant Roma children, and for them migration was a very different experience, that many have experience serious incidents of racist and marginalisation before and after the migration, so that cycle of disadvantage and discrimination was perpetuated in the new country. They talked about being excluded from services or being excluded from the local area and just feeling as not wanted and also being victims of racist attacks.
MD Daniele went on to talk about the factors that impacted on the children’s friendships and relationships.
DS When we looked at children’s experiences of migration in terms of how that impacted on their friendships and relationships, for some children they felt the migration brought their family together, so in a sense there was more time for them to spend time with maybe mothers who were not working after the migration, but for some the experience was at the other extreme, parents working very long hours and having little time to spend with their children.
The absence of some key family adults impacted on children’s lifestyle, opportunities to access services and emotional wellbeing, so some talked about grandparents for example being significant adults before they moved, and how not having close relatives nearby meant that they were stuck in the house for longer periods of time or not have the opportunity to go, for example, to the local leisure centre to do leisure type of activities.
Nevertheless, most families talked about the activities they did in terms of leisure and experiencing the Scottish culture, tradition, visiting local attractions, while also trying to keep in touch with their roots and traditions, so keeping, cooking traditional foods and observing national festivals and celebrations was mentioned by all families.
One group that we found was under extreme pressure was that of migrant single parents who were sometimes on a low income, often families headed by mothers, and the difficulties that they had were most in time of providing childcare, financial support and working several jobs to provide for their children. And the limited social networks after migration of certain families, again impacted on children’s opportunities to access local services to develop friendships.
MD When you walked around the exhibition, Daniele spoke about the theme of friendship in relation to a fabric banner which had been created by some of the children.
DS And when you see on the banner there’s children’s own interpretations of the theme of friendship and relationships after migration, so children and adults from very diverse family having a meal together, children playing games, leisure activities with other children, lots of identity symbols, flags, things that are traditional in different countries, a national symbol is included in some Scottish symbols on the form, family pets appearing there, and also communication in the form of ways of communication through technology or more traditional forms of communication through written letters.
MD Finally the implications of the research for policy and practice were discussed.
DS Based on the findings from the research and the current increase in the number of Eastern European and other families coming to live and work in Scotland, we think it’s important that policymakers at national level, through to Scottish government and at local authority level, think about how provision can be improved for newly arrived families.
Current policy on population targets and initiatives aimed at attracting migrant workers are not enough we think to keep migrant workers in Scotland. We need better policy initiatives aimed also at supporting migrant children with will mean that families have more reasons to remain and work and live in Scotland.
A clearer strategy and guidelines are needed to clarify how services should meet the needs of newly arrived migrant families. Services need to make sure that families are involved in improving provision and by consulting with families, services can identify their needs and concerns they have about service provision.
Nationally we need more guidance to local authorities on best standards in supporting newly arrived migrant families and their children to ensure better integration in communities. This should include provision of information, better access to services, guidance and support available and general opportunities for community participation.
Services could develop themselves systems of monitoring provision for migrant groups and ensure that there is consistency across provision at local and regional level, and among practitioners.
In some services like education, assessing children’s linguistic and academic competence is key to ensure that children are not disadvantaged in their education by the process of family migration. The use of interpreters and bilingual classroom assistants, for example, to support children’s learning, and also finding ways in which to support children with emotional difficulties and opportunities to develop friendships is key.
Schools need more information on the education systems across Europe and support for provision or specialist subjects in children’s own language. Many countries in Europe who have newly arrived migrant groups have implemented provision which is in children’s own language initially to support them with transition. This means of course that schools have the financial means, perhaps through people premiums through migrant children to provide the appropriate support in terms of language learning and academic achievement for migrant children. It is important that migrant children are challenged academically and do not fall behind because of their developing competence in English. It takes a long time for children to develop high levels of academic competence in English and that fact shouldn’t be detrimental to their opportunity to learn subjects in the short term.
One thing that was clear from the research was parents interest in their children’s education, and them wanting to support their children’s learning and this wasn’t always possible because parents were not familiar with the education system, they didn’t have the language skills, or they felt the school wasn’t facilitating that process. So education services need to find better ways of engaging migrant parents in their children’s education.
As a country we need further policy initiatives on inclusion and cultural diversity to acknowledge the fact that Scotland is changing in terms of demographics, and ensure that this initiative is aimed at tackling racist and discriminatory attitudes are sustained in the long term, especially in times of economic downturn, which quite often increase incidents of racism and discrimination.
One policy initiative that is supported by governments over the years is that of promoting the learning of English by children and also by migrant parents, because migrants linguistic competence in English is key to facilitating successful integration. This of course shouldn’t be done at the detriment of children’s own home language, so we need to find the balance in terms of providing opportunities for people to learn English language through classes funded for adults, opportunities for children through school and other services, but also a sense of acknowledgement of children’s own languages and identity through school and community based events.
One key finding from the research is that migrant families in general made very limited use of services, other than education, so there was a low use of services like health and leisure, often due to lack of information on entitlements and other barriers to accessing the service or accessing information about the service. All services should think about ways in which information can become available to newly arrived migrant groups, either through translation or to information which is provided directly through schools or through parents, so they know what services are available and what service access entitles them to.
Professionals often felt in the study that their lack of knowledge on migrant families, experiences of a particular service, their needs and expectations were, and this was getting in the way of providing a good service experience. So one policy initiative that we would like to see is on guidance on the standards of training required for professionals working with migrant groups. How to facilitate opportunities for training and funding to be available at local authority level, to increase the opportunities that practitioners have to think about how their service can meet the needs of newly arrived migrant groups. There’s still difficulties in getting data on migrant families, the areas in which they settle, the number of children for example who are new to the country, and having good data is crucial to improving service delivery.
One group that we thought was particularly disadvantaged is that of Roma migrants, who are marginalised in their country of origin, there’s a big risk in terms of Roma children being excluded form school and other services in countries around Europe, and we found that to a certain extent the cycle of disadvantage was perpetuated after migration, with some children not being in school or not being known to services. So there is a risk that migration means that children become invisible or not known to services in their country of origin or in their new country. So having better communication between services at European level to make sure the children to not fall between the gaps if their families decide to migrate is crucial. Provision for Roma families in terms of education, health and leisure needs to take into account their specific cultural needs and expectations, and their tradition of being marginalised and discriminated by the general population, but also by the services in their country of origin.
The language barrier and service providers limited knowledge of cultural backgrounds may mean often that migrant children who may be at risk or vulnerable will fall between the gaps, so we need to ensure the services take into account these risks and manage the provision for vulnerable children from migrant backgrounds. Sometimes identifying a learning difficulty or a disability may be made more difficult by the language barrier, risks such as failure to attend school, emotional and physical abuse, poverty, migrant children may be more difficult to detect if service providers encounter a language or a cultural barrier. So it is important that services make sure migrant families are assessed through the same mechanics of child protection and appropriate help is given when needed. Service guidelines need to be developed in this sense to capture the specific needs of migrant groups and what can be done to address their needs.
Finally we found very limited participation of migrant families in the public debate, the local decision making and in consultation processes. They were often seen but less heard, and given the important contribution the migrants make to the economy and the cultural diversity of the country, it is important that the public discourse on migration is driven by well thought out policies on inclusion and positive community relationships, and migrants should have opportunities for engagement in the public debate and in consultations about how services should meet their needs.
So what services can do is to provide opportunities for the involvement of migrants in service delivery, decisions about services to be offered and migrants to be consulted on how provision can be improved, especially in relation to provision for children. One opportunity would be to work in collaboration with established Diaspora groups to disseminate information on services available and also to conduct consultation to find out how services could be better adapted to cater for the specific needs of new migrants.
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