All over the world economic challenges have deeply affected the lives of millions of immigrant families and the hardest hit are the children. Skyrocketing economic disadvantages have led to job layoffs and lack of the basic necessities in life and the immigrant children have consequently suffered from immense mental health problems and constant abuse. Low levels of income are inextricably linked with rising levels of homelessness and lack of other basic needs and the immigrant children are particularly affected by these adverse conditions. Thousands of immigrant children have been reported to have a wide variety of mental problems which are manifested in behavioral patterns while scores of other children have become victims of child abuse in its various forms. The causes of these mental problems and abuse that the children suffer run the usual gauntlet of the causes of mental problems and child abuse worldwide including neglect, Ineffective parenting and parental psychopathology among other factors. The magnitude of the situation is made clearer when it is established that scores of poor immigrant families migrate every day and the children bear the brunt of the process the hardest. The bottom line is that poverty in immigrant families has catastrophic effects on the lives of immigrant children. This paper will explore some of the effects of low income hereinafter referred to as poverty on the mental health and abuse of children in immigrant families. It is hypothesized that poverty leads to immense catastrophic mental conditions on immigrant children and increases the chances of child abuse on these children. This paper asserts that poverty leads to these two conditions because of the effects of poverty like neglect of the children. It is imperative for childhood development to have parental support and nurturance especially for psychological and emotional development. Poverty is therefore the chief factor that disrupts this very important parental support leading to mental problems and increasing incidences of child abuse. After exploring the effects of poverty on immigrant children this paper will conclude by giving an overview of the effects that have been explored.
Immigrant families especially those that are economically challenged tend to be clustered in crowded housing areas that are known for their harsh environmental conditions, limited resources and high rates of violence and crimes. This state of affairs in combination with the resultants of poverty presents a risk for the immigrant children both mental and in other aspects of life which translates to child abuse. These risk factors that lead to child mental problems and child abuse are embedded in socio-cultural, parental/familial and individual factors. A number of these factors relate to child and adolescent psychopathology, poor social conditions, adverse consequences of migration, adaptation situations and the mental psychopathology of parents that results from the harsh economic challenges[ CITATION LMP09 \l 1033 ].
Recent data relating to the lives of immigrant children shows that the conditions of life that they live in leaves the children vulnerable to mental health problems and to incidences of abuse. In essence the social problems of immigration and adaptation to the new environment have an impact on the lives of children. The above named risk factors that are brought about by poverty undermine parenting skills and thereby expose children to harmful conditions like adverse psychopathology and abuse in its various forms. It is of importance to note that the four risk factors that cause abuse and mental health problems are broadly classified into four groups’ namely social, cultural, parental/familial and individual child. Irrespective of this classification the distinction will not be largely considered as these four factors interact continuously with each other[ CITATION Joh081 \l 1033 ]. As such in this paper only certain examples of risk factors that pertain to migratory conditions that affect immigrant children will be considered.
Low Income and the Mental Health of Children in Immigrant Families
Parental support and nurturance are critical to childhood development more so in terms of psychological development hereinafter referred to as the mental health children. Poverty is the chief factor that disrupts this very important parental support; poverty highly jeopardizes the mental health of children in immigrant families. It is worth noting from the start that the effects of poverty on children’s mental health are not holistically caused directly by poverty but are caused by blend of direct and indirect effects of low income. Poverty and consequently low income is associated with a huge number of negative child outcomes like stress, mental health problems, depression, and culture shock, chief among them being abnormal child psychology. The effects of poverty in children’s mental health are clear cut as a plethora of research has established that material deprivation directly results in adverse mental health conditions for immigrant children. It is of critical significance to point out that poverty is directly linked with ineffective parenting, family hostility, parental psychopathology and single parent families factors which are additional sources of mental health problems for children[ CITATION Ade04 \l 1033 ].
Parental psychopathology is one of the chief causal pathways that link poverty to children’s mental health. Immigrant parents are exposed to extreme economic strain coupled with stressful life events; they have to provide housing food and other basic resources with their very meager resources. This immense pressure has been documented to jeopardize the mental health of the parents. This parental psychopathology has some trickledown effect on the children in turn affecting the mental health of children. Parents in immigrant families struggle with finances and they pass this strain down to children. In married couples these financial strain often causes tension between the families which is subsequently passed down to children. Children are subject to stressful situations in the very family that is supposed to be their pillar of development during the process of mental health development. Consequently most of these children are depressed; suffer from stress or withdrawal symptoms. Suffice to say parents of these children impact immense pressure on the children to perform to avoid being trapped in the poverty cycle. The parents relive their own lives through the lives of the children; a pressure that is too harsh for children to handle psychologically[ CITATION Eri08 \l 1033 ].
Parental psychopathology is highly rooted in the entire process of migration. There are four common types of migration but the method chosen is highly dependent on economic availability. The most common method of migration among low income families is serial migration where one parent or both parent migrate first and the children join them later. Other families have parental migration go to work overseas with no intention of having their children to migrate. Both types of migration cause lengthy separations between parents and children. It has been established by a number of researchers that children who endure this separation suffer from a variety of clinical symptoms like grief, stress, loss, depression and loss just to name a few of the adverse mental effects. This grief is often manifested in behavioral and emotional patterns with the children being withdrawn and truant among other patterns caused by separation[ CITATION HRS06 \l 1033 ].
Separation between parents and children is largely attributed with the highest cases of mental conditions for children both in the short term and in the long term. In support of this, proponents of the attachment theory assert that the parent-child bond that is disrupted leads to short term and long term psychological adjustment problems for the children. With serial migration or parental migration the children are left under the care of surrogate parents with the intention of reducing the impact of separation. However research has shown that surrogate parents rarely are able to offer the kind of nurturance and mental support that children need especially during a time they have to handle separation from their birth parents. Too often majority of the children who are left behind receive no psychological nurturance from their surrogate caregivers and feelings of abandonment are common among this children. Contact via telephone or e-mails cannot be compared with availability of parents and these children end up having adverse mental health[ CITATION LMP09 \l 1033 ].
In low income earning families which have opted for serial migration, re-union is a time that is of great joy. However research has established that most of the children who are left behind join their parents in their teens- during their adolescence an age gap that is fraught with challenges. During this time children often battle with developmental issues of identity and not counting the fact that children have probably already bonded with the surrogate caregiver and so are suffering from separation once again. The parents who are still economically challenged often work long hours and are not available to help the children settle in the new environment. The children have to contend with cultural differences, language differences and new social systems; factors that are stressing especially if coupled with the hustles of adolescence. Consequently, the child’s mental health is affected as the children feel that their lives are just a rollercoaster of emotions. Often the children have behavioral problems which the parents take as ingratitude and punish the children for it. Ultimately the children suffer from depression, rejection and counter-rejection[ CITATION Joh081 \l 1033 ].
Economically challenged families are often too busy trying to handle the financial strain that ineffective parenting is a common occurrence in these families. Ineffective parenting is another chief cause of mental problems in children from economically disadvantaged immigrant families. As explored earlier most of these parents are too busy trying to make a living that they have very little communication with their children. Due to work pressures the parents talk less with their children and therefore forfeit the all important parental duty of nurturance. To cover for this gaping hole the children to resort to behavioral patterns that lead to mental health problems like addiction to video games, addiction to the internet and even drug abuse with its obvious mental results. Research has established that parenting strongly links to child psychopathology and as such ineffective parenting would translate to undesirable child psychopathology[ CITATION Eri08 \l 1033 ].
The detrimental effects of poverty on children’s mental health are often an amalgam of effects. Economic disadvantages limit access to material necessities and fulfillment of basic rights in immigrant families. Children from these poor families have to live with and compete with economically advantaged children who have a lot of facilities at their disposal. Lack of necessities as compared to their peers may cause children to have abnormal psychological development especially with low self esteem. Poverty makes the immigrant families to live in conditions that are harmful to the mental health of their children due to the high number of stressful events like robbery, murder and rape. Suffice to say poor immigrant children experience a lot of residential mobility which results in counter cycles of feelings of loss and stability. This lack of stability eventually results in mental problems like withdrawal[ CITATION Ade04 \l 1033 ].
In a summation it can be asserted that poverty exerts its effects on the mental health of children through a blend of multiple risk factors like severe marital discord, stress and poor parental mental health. All of these factors are highly bonded with the challenges that are associated with the process of adapting to the new environment or adapting to a change in the status quo in the event that the children are left behind when the parents migrate to try and improve their economic conditions[ CITATION HRS06 \l 1033 ].
Low Income and Abuse of Children in Immigrant Families
Poverty coupled with its additives like unemployment, lack of support networks and ineffective parenting is one of the chief causes of child abuse in immigrant families. Poverty has made many immigrant families to live in difficult conditions that are ripe grounds for child abuse. Financial difficulties as explored above lead to a lot of stress and tension in the family which consequently translate to child abuse in terms of neglect. This is because economic challenges are accompanied by housing challenges, mental stress, difficult immigration and problems in fitting in the new environment. Abuse of children in immigrant families therefore is a very real phenomenon due to the conditions of life although many researchers have not established on the number of child abuse incidents in immigrant families[ CITATION Eri08 \l 1033 ].
Abuse of children in immigrant families is quite notable in serial migrations and more so during the pre migration period. It has been documented that children of immigrants who are left under the care of surrogate caregivers are often inadequately supervised or under protected making them prone to dire results such as sexual abuse. This situation of neglect also holds true for parents who have migrated with their children but are too busy catering for their economic needs that the children are left to fend for themselves. For many of the children who are left behind when their parents migrate it is mandatory for them to adopt adult like responsibilities. For instance many of these children start looking after their younger siblings and to manage the money that is sent by their parents. With premature parenting the children have no space for being just children and their fundamental children rights are henceforth abused[ CITATION Ade04 \l 1033 ].
Child maltreatment is a common feature after parents reunite with their parents. As explored above, children who have just migrated are under immense pressure to adapt to the new environmental conditions. Most of these children are suffering from the effects of being separated from their surrogate caregivers and do not know how to cope in the new environment. To make matters worse the immigrant children get little or no help foe their parents who are too busy trying to make ends meet. As a result immigrant children suffer from mental health conditions which are manifested in behavioral problems like truancy and drug abuse. The parents take this as signs of ingratitude and most of them take harsh discipline measures on these children. Suffice to say most of the immigrant parents exert immense pressure on the children to succeed in life so as to avoid the cycle of poverty. Often this pressure becomes too immense and translates to abuse of the child’s rights[ CITATION HRS06 \l 1033 ].
Poor immigrant families often leave in despicable conditions and most of them live in neighborhoods that are ripe grounds for child abuse. The risky situation is exacerbated by parents who are too busy and hence the children are neglected to fend for themselves. Most of these children have been victims of sexual abuse while others are forced to work prematurely often as drug peddlers. Psychological abuse at the hands of their parents as explored earlier could result from ineffective parenting, parent psychopathology with chief among them being neglect. Neglect is considered as a chief type of child abuse especially for immigrant children who are particularly needy of attention to help them cope. Due to this neglect children often suffer from emotional as well as mental problems. Psychological abuse therefore goes hand in hand with emotional abuse. Emotionally, most of these children who have been neglected have low self esteem and have no joy of enjoying life[ CITATION Joh081 \l 1033 ].
Physical abuse of immigrant children occurs either during the pre migration period or after the children have reunited with their parents. Most of the immigrant parents leave their children under the care of surrogate care givers and often most of these children are mistreated. They are given tasks to do and if they fail to do them or if they fail to execute the tasks perfectly they are punished. It has been documented that most of the children who go to the emergency room due to physical abuse are from poor immigrant families. Children also face physical abuse if they take premature employment to try and add financial resources to their families. Employers often who are illegally employing these children are known to abuse these children verbally and physically. On the other hand children can also face physical abuse at the hands of their parents. This often occurs in cases where the parents feel that the children are not meeting their expectations. This is defined as child abuse because it goes beyond instilling discipline when parents instill physical injuries on the children. It is worth noting that most of these parents hail from countries where instilling child discipline using physical force is socially acceptable unlike some host countries which have labeled such practices as incidences of child abuse[ CITATION LMP09 \l 1033 ].
While physical abuse is the most visible type of abuse other types of abuse like emotional and psychological abuse are prevalent in immigrant children. Immigrant children often have their emotional needs ignored and are also placed in dangerous environments- obvious abuses of their fundamental children rights. Emotional abuse has been known to damage an immigrant child’s mental health and social development leaving them with permanent psychological scars. Examples of emotional abuse that immigrant children endure includes exposure to violence, constant belittling by host children, frequent bullying and minimal physical contact like hugs and kisses. Immigrant children could thus suffer from emotional abuse at the hands of their parents- both birth and surrogate and also from peers[ CITATION Eri08 \l 1033 ].
Child sexual abuse of immigrant children is highly prevalent because of the conditions of neglect and living in dangerous neighborhoods. As such child sexual abuse is not only about body contact but also about exposure of children to sexual material/situations. Most of the immigrant children who have suffered from sexual abuse have suffered from it at the hands of people that are entrusted to care for the children often the care givers. Most of these children are forced to engage in sexual acts in exchange of basic necessities like food and shelter. Guilt and shame often makes these children to be silent and not to tell their parents who are miles away. On the other hand children who live with their poor immigrant parents are forced to fend for themselves as their parents work multiple jobs or long shifts to make ends meet. Sexual predators often take advantage of immigrant children due to the minimal supervision that they get from their parents. Child abuse of immigrant children therefore can either be sexual, emotional, verbal or physical. The abuse is made possible by the migration conditions like neglect which leave the children vulnerable for abuse[ CITATION Ade04 \l 1033 ].
The effects of poverty on immigrant children are adverse and the likely long term impacts are disastrous to say the least. Poverty has affected the social and living conditions of immigrants conditions which have significantly impacted on parenting skills and environmental conditions for childhood development. The resulting conditions of poverty like neglect of children have led to a wide array of mental health problems and the despicable environmental/social conditions have exacerbated the incidences of child abuse. Scores of poor immigrant families are migrating on a daily basis and the process of migrating itself followed by the adaptation has caused immense psychological harm to immigrant children. Mental health problems and child abuse are just but a few of the adverse effect of poverty on immigrant families and this paper is by no means an exhaustive exploration of the effects on immigrant children.
HRSDC. (2006, October 31). Changes in Poverty Status and Developmental Behaviours: A Comparison of Immigrant and Non-Immigrant Children in Canada - August 2000. Retrieved February 28, 2011, from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada: http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/cs/sp/sdc/pkrf/publications/research/2000-001332/page06.shtml
Jones, A., Sharpe, J., & Sogren, M. (2004). Children’s experiences of separation from parents as a consequence of migration. Caribbean Journal of Social Work , 89-109.
Mash, E. J., & Wolfe, D. A. (2008). Abnormal Child Psychology. Stamford: Cengage Learning.
Mollenkopf, J., & Kasinitz, P. (2008). Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age. Journal of Social History , 430-436.
Piedra, L., & Engstrom, D. (2009, January 23). Segmented assimilation theory and the life model: an integrated approach to understanding immigrants and their children. Retrieved February 28, 2011, from The Free Library: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Segmented+assimilation+theory+and+the+life+model%3A+an+integrated...-a0202203231