Canadian Study: New Immigrant Families Face Many Challenges

New Canadian research shows that many recent immigrants, particularly those who are parents, are at greater risk of mental health problems and financial challenges, and their children are more likely to experience learning setbacks before kindergarten.

Researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto conducted two new studies on the topic, and their findings come as the Canadian government prepares to release its 2018 immigration policy, which it says will boost the economy and help refugees.

The first study, published in the journal PLOS One, finds that parents who are new to Canada have higher rates of depression and emotional problems than new Canadians who are not parents. This finding is particularly strong among immigrants who are single, female or refugees.

In the second study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, the researchers found that the children of many Canadian immigrant families lag behind their peers in learning and development before kindergarten. This includes early reading and math knowledge, attention, and social skills.

The researchers say this happens because many recent immigrant parents are socioeconomically disadvantaged compared to the rest of the population, and many are unable to provide their young children with sufficient learning opportunities before they begin kindergarten.

“When we look at the results of these two studies together, we can see that immigrant families are particularly vulnerable,” said Dr. Dillon Browne, who led the studies during his Ph.D. at OISE.

“Not only are the parents at higher risk for mental health issues and financial challenges, but their kids’ learning development is impacted before they have even reached the classroom — this could have long-term implications,” he continued. “These studies show that it’s important to look at how we as a society can better support new Canadian families.”

In the first study, researchers tracked the self-reported rates of emotional and mental health of 7,000 immigrants to Canada during their first four years in the country. The findings reveal that Canadian immigrants had a high rate of emotional problems, with one-in-three reporting significant challenges by their second year in the country. These rates were even higher among those who were parents.

“When we saw the impact on parents in particular, it prompted us to dig further — we needed to see how their kids were doing,” said Browne.

In their second study, researchers followed 500 immigrant and non-immigrant families in the Greater Toronto Area from the time a child was born until school entry. They found that two-thirds of the struggling families were headed by immigrant parents living in poverty, and whose children were behind in social, emotional and academic skills by the time they entered kindergarten.

“In other words, there were gaps in learning before children entered school due to the family’s living circumstances after arriving in Canada” said Browne.

“One reason is families struggle to provide their children with enrichment and learning opportunities in the early years. Another reason is parents become stressed by economic and employment challenges and struggle to create a household environment that promotes learning.”

The new findings are particularly important given the recent spike in refugees in the country. The researchers say they hope the Canadian government, which will release its 2018 immigration plan on Nov. 1, takes notice.

“Policies need to facilitate socioeconomic success and mental health following arrival in Canada, given the effects of poverty and stress on early learning, and the effects of early learning on society,” said Browne.

Dr. Jennifer Jenkins, Chair of Early Child Development and Education at the Atkinson Centre at OISE, said, “As a society, it is imperative that every child and every family has the opportunity to grow and thrive. This cannot happen unless there is equal opportunity for economic stability and mental health.”

Source: University of Toronto

Posted by Patricia Adams