Immigrant Families 4
By the �me you reach the end of this chapter, you should be able to do the following:
1. Discuss the history and implica�ons of immigra�on policies for families and young children. 2. Describe immigrant families and children living within the United States. 3. Explain the strengths and challenges of immigrant families and children. 4. Discuss early educa�on programma�c and instruc�onal prac�ces to support immigrant families.
The percentage of immigrants in the U.S. popula�on was highest at the beginning of the 20th century, and it saw a decline from 1920 to 1970. In the past 30 years, we have seen a doubling of the percentage of the popula�on of immigrants in the United States.
The number of immigrants in the United States increased by almost 10 million between 2000 and 2011.
Introduction Bianca, a 3-year-old Spanish and English bilingual preschooler who recently emigrated from the Dominican Republic, has joined Ms. Tonia’s classroom this week. Bianca’s parents have described her as shy, and they explain that she misses her abuela (grandmother) dearly. Bianca and her abuela had a strong rela�onship, and this is the first �me she has ever been away from her for an extended period of �me. Ms. Tonia overhears Laura, another student, asking Bianca, “Why do you sound like that? Why are you wearing a sweater when it is warm inside? Why do you like to eat fried bananas?” Bianca looks like she is about to cry. Ms. Tonia knows that Laura is showing natural curiosity and that she is interested in befriending Bianca. How can Ms. Tonia help Bianca and Laura develop a friendship?
In this chapter, we will focus on immigrant families and children and the role that early care and educa�on programs and teachers can play in ensuring that their challenges, strengths, and experiences are considered in the classroom and across instruc�onal prac�ces. Key instruc�on prac�ces and strategies that enhance immigrant children’s learning and development and promote home-school partnerships will also be discussed.
4.1 The Changing Face of U.S. Families Our na�on is becoming more diverse, and recent trends in immigra�on are the most important driver of U.S. diversity. As shown in Figure 4.1, the percentage of immigrants in the United States has waxed and waned over the last century, but has steadily grown in the last 30 years. More specifically, Figure 4.2 shows that the number of immigrants in the United States has increased by 9 million over the past decade, while the number of unauthorized immigrants—individuals who entered the United States illegally or are staying longer than permi�ed—has slowed down during the same period (Pew Research Center, 2013).
We are a na�on of immigrants, as well as, in the case of African and Na�ve Americans, cap�ve and conquered people. All areas of the United States experience different levels of immigra�on; the majority of immigrant children reside in California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Nevada, Hawaii, Texas, Massachuse�s, Illinois, Arizona, and New Mexico (Hernandez, 2004; Iruka & Gárcia, 2012). However, over the past decade, there have also been large increases in southern states’ immigrant popula�ons. The na�onal average change in popula�on from 2000–2011 has been a 29.8% increase in immigrants; however, five southern states—Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Kentucky—have seen the greatest increases in immigra�on, with 75%–93% increases (Migra�on Policy Ins�tute, 2013). Immigrant families may be a�racted to these states poten�ally due to low cost of living, job opportuni�es, be�er educa�on, and low violence and crime rates. However, the experience of being an immigrant in these states presents different challenges, given that state governments and residents are not accustomed to providing educa�on, health, or social services to this popula�on. For more informa�on on immigrants by state, you can visit the Migra�on Policy Ins�tute website (h�p://www.migra�oninforma�on.org/datahub/acscensus.cfm) .
Figure 4.1: Immigrants as a Percentage in the U.S. Popula�on, From 1900 to 2010
Source: Camarota, S. A. (2012). Immigrants in the United States: A profile of American’s foreign-born popula�on. Washington, D.C.: Center for Immigra�on Studies.
Figure 4.2: Immigra�on Trends
Immigra�on policies are largely responsible for the predominately White European popula�on of the United States.
Image Asset Management Ltd./SuperStock
Source: Pew Research Center. (2013). A na�on of immigrants: A portrait of the 40 million, including 11 million unauthorized. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, Pew Hispanic Center.
U.S. Immigration Policy
When and why a family immigrated to the United States has an impact on the child’s development and learning; it even affects whether the child a�ends an early childhood program. A child whose family emigrates to the United States for economic opportunity or seeking asylum, which is a special form of protec�on from a foreign government (sought by poli�cal ac�vists, refugees, and whistleblowers, for example), may have no family connec�ons when the family first arrives. In comparison, a child whose family emigrated to the United States 70 years ago may have genera�ons of family members and networks in the United States and in his family’s home country; in fact, this par�cular child may not iden�fy himself as an immigrant because he, and his parents, were born here, but his family’s culture and tradi�ons, such as its religious and holiday prac�ces and celebra�ons, may s�ll be based on those from his family’s home country.
Typically, when such children have a family history of immigra�on and they are from one of the pan-ethnic groups in the United States, they are s�ll considered part of an ethnic or cultural minority, even though they are not first-genera�on immigrants (“foreign-born”)—or even second-genera�on. So you will be�er understand these differences in immigrant lives, we present a brief history of U.S. immigra�on.
Defining the Waves of Immigrant Popula�ons
In the 1700s, the early immigrants from England, France, Germany, and other countries in northwestern Europe came to the United States in search of economic opportuni�es and poli�cal freedom, yet they o�en relied upon the labor of African slaves working on land stolen from Na�ve Americans (Ewing, 2012). These northwestern Europeans then mistrusted and mistreated later immigrants who came from Italy, Poland, Russia, and other parts of southeastern and western Europe during the 1800s. Subsequently, European immigrants have in turn mistrusted and mistreated the most recent wave of immigrants from La�n America, Asia, and Africa who have come to the United States in the 1900s and 2000s.
Although the recent wave currently makes up our largest group of immigrants, it is important to understand that their level of emigra�on, and the �me period for immigra�on, is, and has always been, lower than the level of emigra�on for Europeans (Ewing, 2012). Throughout the course of history, the vast majority of U.S. immigrants have been people of European descent; thus, the fact that European Whites are the majority of the U.S. popula�on is due to immigra�on policies within this country.
Restric�ons on Immigra�on
The �ght restric�on on immigra�on began in 1875 with a law that banned the importa�on of Asian laborers and pros�tutes and immigra�on of foreign criminals to the United States (Ewing, 2012). In 1921, the United States created immigra�on quota laws that excluded Asians and Africans and favored northern and western Europeans over southern and eastern Europeans. In 1965, the Immigra�on and Na�onality Act abolished the na�onal origins quota system and replaced it with a preference system that focused on immigrants’ skills and family rela�onships with U.S. ci�zens and residents (Ewing, 2012).
Although there remained some policies and prac�ces that limited immigra�on into the United States, there was also an economic need for immigrants. As men were dra�ed during World War II, the United States. experienced a shortage of farm workers. This resulted in the influx of agricultural workers from Mexico in 1942. Many of these workers who were in the United States for several years or longer put down roots and had children. It was expected that these immigrants would return to their country or apply for legal status a�er this temporary employment; however, the cost and process of becoming a legal immigrant was cumbersome for many of these poor, uneducated workers.
The federal government launched “Opera�on Wetback,” rounding up and depor�ng about one million Mexican immigrants, as well as some legal immigrants and U.S. ci�zens of Mexican descent (Ewing, 2012). Children’s lives were disrupted, either because they were separated from their parents or they were sent back to a country they did not know. This trauma for children in their early lives affected how they connected with adults and peers
The Immigra�on and Control Act of 1986 allowed families, like the one pictured here, to apply for legal status instead of being deported.
Richard Drew/AP/Associated Press
and how they behaved in the classroom, including genera�ng a fear of change and a need for strict rou�nes (Androff et al., 2011; Brabeck, 2010).
Policies limi�ng immigrants con�nued with the Immigra�on Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 (Ewing, 2012). The purpose of the IRCA was to allow unauthorized immigrants to apply for legal status, punish employers who knowingly hired unauthorized immigrants, and increase funding for border security and enforcement. In 1996, three laws passed that had a devasta�ng impact on immigra�on. These laws did the following: (a) expanded the defini�on of aggravated felony, retroac�vely allowed deporta�on of those with nonviolent offenses, expedited the deporta�on of individuals without formal hearings, established mul�year bans for re-entry into the United States, and enhanced border security; (b) restricted immigrants from gaining access to public benefits, such as Medicare and Social Security, for ten years; and (c) expedited the removal of individuals suspected of terrorism, allowed deten�on and deporta�on based on “secret evidence,” and created a more stringent criteria for gran�ng asylum (Ewing, 2012). The September 11, 2001 terrorist a�acks created an addi�onal layer of immigra�on control by linking it with na�onal security. This singled out individuals from Muslim, Arab, and South Asian
Though the U.S. immigra�on policies have tried to control illegal immigra�on, U.S. employers have encouraged it, implicitly and explicitly, by con�nuing to rely on illegal immigrants as a low-wage labor force. This conflict between law and economics has led some locali�es and states, such as Arizona, to ins�tute laws that allow police officers to be “de facto immigra�on agents” and arrest any suspected unauthorized immigrants.
Families Facing the Threat of Deporta�on
Children in families living under fear of deporta�on are likely to have challenges in rela�on to a�achment, sleep, anxiety, and other emo�onal problems (Brabeck & Qingwen Xu, 2010). The families themselves are less likely to provide the consistent and responsive environment that children may need, including interac�on with schools and teachers (Leidy, Guerra, & Toro, 2012). O�en, immigra�ng to the United States means leaving some loved ones behind due to costs and restric�ons on how many people from a family can travel, as was the case with Bianca in our opening vigne�e.
To minimize retrauma�zing children in these situa�ons, early childhood programs and educators need to provide safe and nurturing environments for children. This may entail providing individual �me or ways for children to share how they are feeling, and finding ways for other children to empathize with the child through story books that talk about how people feel when they have to leave their home or “favorite” rela�ve behind. Programs and teachers can also be clear in their communica�ons with parents and families that their role is to support families and not to be an “enforcer” of immigra�on laws. ECE programs can ascertain how they can be further suppor�ve through focus groups and conversa�ons with families (this is discussed further in Chapter 5).
Who Is an Immigrant?
Thinking about the children in your class, who would you consider an immigrant? Would it be a child who moved to the United States three years ago? What about a child with a mother whose family has been in the United States for 100 years and a father who arrived to the United States five years ago? Recall in Chapter 1 that an immigrant was defined as either first-genera�on or second-genera�on. First-genera�on immigrants are children who have immigrated to the United States themselves, and second-genera�on immigrants are children whose parents immigrated.
Here is an example, Peter and Jill emigrated to the United States as a young married couple, and they brought their older daughter, Sarah. As the years went by, Peter and Jill had two other daughters, Stephanie and Michelle, who were born in the United States. In this example, Peter, Jill, and Sarah would be classified as first-genera�on immigrants, and Stephanie and Michelle are U.S. ci�zens who would be described “socially” as second-genera�on immigrants. The reason they are defined “socially” as immigrants is because legally, the two daughters are not immigrants at all; they are U.S. ci�zens. Thus, second-genera�on immigrants are immigrants that have only a cultural, ethnic, na�onal, or familial �e to another country, yet they are actually legal U.S. ci�zens. People who are “social” immigrants typically have very strong emo�onal �es to their country.
Mexicans make up the largest immigrant popula�on in the United States, followed by immigrants from East Asia. While immigrants from Mexico have remained stable over the past decade, there has been an increase in immigrants from countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
4.2 Characteristics of Immigrant Families and Children We all probably know individuals who were born in a different country and have lived in the United States for decades, and maybe have even obtained U.S. ci�zenship, who s�ll consider themselves immigrants. Knowing whether a child is a first-genera�on or a second-genera�on immigrant may help determine how the child and her family have acclimated to and are familiar with U.S. culture. It may also provide a clue about the child’s home language and learning style, as well as knowledge about U.S. customs and tradi�ons. Knowing children’s connec�ons to their family’s na�ve country, including tradi�ons and values, helps teachers develop a rela�onship with the child, and also helps the child acclimate and navigate American customs and norms, including the expecta�ons of the classroom and interac�ng with peers.
Country of Origin, Education Level, and Socioeconomic Status
There are many differences among immigrants who relocate to the United States, including their country of origin, educa�on level, extended family, and support networks in the United States. Immigrants are less likely to have a high school educa�on than na�ves, though immigrants and U.S. na�ves are comparable with respect to college degrees. This means that there are groups of immigrants who are less educated and others who are highly educated. Immigrants from Asia, Europe, and Africa are likely to be of higher income and more educated compared to their Mexican counterparts, which means they are more likely to be able to support themselves without social services.
Figure 4.3 shows immigrants by the regions of the world from which they come and by decade. The largest numbers of current immigrants are coming from Mexico—almost 12 million out of 40 million total (Camarota, 2012). In addi�on, 53% of immigrants came from Mexico and La�n America (e.g., Central America, South America, and the Caribbean). While the percentage of immigrants from Mexico has decreased from 33% to 29% from 1980 to 2010, the percentage of immigrants from South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe has increased. The top immigrant-sending countries in the past decade have been Mexico, India, China, the Philippines, El Salvador, and Guatemala. This immigra�on pa�ern means that you will likely have children in your classroom who are from La�n America and speak Spanish.
Figure 4.3: Percentage of Immigrants by Region and Year of Arrival in the United States
Source: Camarota, S. A. (2012). Immigrants in the United States: A profile of America’s foreign-born popula�on. Washington, DC: Center for Immigra�on Studies.
Being sensi�ve to the needs of children from immigrant families requires understanding the resources and values their families have, such as their educa�on level and employment skills, as well as their challenges. Research has found that the socioeconomic status (SES) of the family—which includes parental educa�on, employment status, income, wealth (such as owning a home)—and the richness of the language environment at home have an effect on children’s school readiness and future school success (Mistry, Biesanz, Chien, Howes, & Benner, 2008). About 28% of immigrants 25 to 65 years of age have not completed high school, compared to about 7% of U.S. na�ves. However, there is only a 4% difference between immigrants (29%) and U.S. na�ves (33%) who have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Overall, immigrant families earn an average of $10,000 less than U.S. na�ves ($44,000 vs. $34,000) (Camarota, 2012, p. 20).
This income difference may mean that immigrant parents are not able to provide their children with high quality early educa�on experiences. Parents may also have to work mul�ple jobs, which can limit their �me with their children. More importantly, the income difference may increase the likelihood of children from immigrant families living in poverty, needing public assistance, and poten�ally being exposed to crime and other trauma. Na�onal data shows that over 32% of children of immigrants are likely to be in poverty, compared to 19% of children of U.S. na�ves (Camarota, 2012, p. 27).
The longer immigrants are in the United States, the more likely they are to own a home, have insurance, not live in poverty, and not use any welfare program.
The majority of immigrants who are living in poverty are from Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, Hai�, and the Dominican Republic (poverty rates range from 20%–33%). In contrast, immigrants from the Philippines, India, Germany, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Canada are less likely to live in poverty (poverty rates range from 5–9%). Overall, immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Europe are less likely to be in poverty than those from Mexico and La�n America. This suggests that though immigrant families are more likely to have less educa�on and to live in poverty than U.S. na�ves, this does not apply to all immigrants.
The biggest reason for many immigrants reloca�ng to the United States is economic opportunity. Employment not only provides income for families, but it also exposes immigrant families to U.S. culture. Though immigrants are concentrated in certain industries, such as farming, housekeeping, construc�on labor, and butchering, they also work as computer programmers, engineers, and physicians. However, since the majority of immigrant families work as laborers and have nonstandard hours, teachers should consider how communica�on and interac�on with families may be limited or varied because of the work schedules and stress families experience. Further, the stress of the work environment and hours may also affect parents’ styles and interac�ons with their children.
As a sign of accultura�on and middle-class SES, over 52% of immigrants are homeowners, compared to 68% of na�ves. While home ownership is a sign of integra�on and economic success, immigrant families are more likely to live in overcrowded condi�ons than U.S. na�ves. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines a household as overcrowded when there is more than one person per room. Approximately 13% of immigrants, especially immigrants from Mexico and Central America, are considered to be in overcrowded households. This is in comparison to 2% of U.S. na�ves (though Asian and Hispanic American na�ves are considerably higher at 7%) (Camarota, 2012).
Overcrowding is a concern for the well-being of young children when they do not have a dedicated space to play, learn, or do homework. A lot of noise may prevent children from concentra�ng and focusing. Children may not have dedicated space for sleeping or res�ng, which can lessen their ability to focus while in school.
The vast majority of immigrants coming to this country are hard-working and eager to become part of the fabric of American life. However, many immigrant families face major stressors and challenges. Those immigrants who come to the United States with li�le income and educa�on and limited English work mul�ple low-paying jobs, live in dangerous neighborhoods, and use social services such as food stamps, if they have the proper documents, while learning the culture, language, and norms of their new country. This may mean that children do not spend a lot of �me with their parents, they may not experience consistent child care arrangements, and they may feel anxious because of the lack of familiarity with the sounds, smells, and language.
Even with the challenges faced by immigrant families, na�onal data shows that the longer immigrants are in the United States, the less likely they are to be in poverty and lack health insurance and the more likely they are to own homes. These are key indicators of economic progress (Figure 4.4).
Figure 4.4: Indicators of Success by Length of Time in the United States
Source: Based on data from Camarota, S. A. (2012). Immigrants in the United States: A profile of America’s foreign-born popula�on. Washington, DC: Center for Immigra�on Studies.
However, the use of welfare programs, such as cash and food assistance and subsidized housing, par�cularly during the ini�al decades living in the United States, indicates that many immigrant families are not secure in their living condi�ons, even though they may not be living in dire poverty. These unstable living condi�ons, o�en found in poor and working families, and possibly due to lower educa�onal a�ainment, household income, and language ability, may cause food and housing insecurity. Food and housing insecurity occur when adults or children perceive that hunger and homelessness are quite possible if just one factor changes—e.g., the loss of a job or the loss of food stamp benefits—because there are few or no other op�ons to replace the lost income or benefits.
The longer immigrants are in the United States, the be�er their ability to speak English. However, about 20% of individuals who have been in the United States for over 60 years s�ll report not speaking English only or very well.
These family insecuri�es have been associated with poor outcomes for children (Eckenrode, Rowe, Laird, & Brathwaite, 1995; Rose-Jacobs et al., 2008; Simpson & Fowler, 1994). Food and housing insecuri�es can affect children’s mood and a�en�on. A child who is hungry, who is living in a temporary shelter, or who is con�nually moving may find it a challenge to concentrate and engage in classroom ac�vi�es and may display signs of anxiety or problem behavior.
Approximately 34% of immigrants do not have health insurance compared to 14% of U.S. na�ves, with this number being higher for Hispanics and African Americans (Camarota, 2012, p. 42). Further, over 50% of immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and El Salvador have no insurance, in contrast to less than 10% of immigrants from wealthier countries, such as Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The lack of health insurance may mean that immigrant children are unable to get adequate health care, which may prevent them from a�ending school regularly, and this may hinder their learning and their socio-emo�onal development. It may also mean that children’s health issues, such as fever and asthma, as well as vision, hearing, and dental problems, may not be addressed soon enough—if at all—which can have serious consequences.
Failure to meet children’s health care needs and ensure they get proper nutrients and vitamins can harm their brain development, especially during the cri�cal periods of young childhood. Though programs such as Head Start provide health screenings and dental care, ECE teachers and programs can connect families to organiza�ons that assist with providing health insurance for children, as well as ensuring that families have access to a regular doctor.
Language Proficiency of Immigrant Families and Children
Immigrant families’ familiarity and comfort with the English language varies, as does that of their children. Some of the families are likely mul�lingual, meaning they speak three or more languages. The majority (97.8%) of immigrants from English-speaking countries, such as the Caribbean countries of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the United Kingdom and Guyana, are likely to report that they speak English well, and 85% of African, Asian, and European immigrants speak English (Camarota, 2012, p. 39). In contrast, almost 50% of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries, such as Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and El Salvador, report that they do not speak English well or at all. The longer immigrants are in the United States, the more likely they are to speak English very well (Figure 4.5).
Figure 4.5: English-speaking Ability and Length of Time in the United States
Source: Camarota, S. A. (2012). Immigrants in the United States: A profile of America’s foreign-born popula�on. Washington, DC: Center for Immigra�on Studies.
Approximately 21% of school-age children are from immigrant households and almost 80% of these children speak a language other than English (Camarota, 2012). Lack of fluency in English may limit parents’ ability to find employment, because English is a requirement for most jobs. Children who do not know English may have difficulty interac�ng with teachers, other adults, and peers in the classroom, as well as engaging in classroom ac�vi�es and lessons without accommoda�ons for their language. Though the ability to speak English makes it easier to succeed in the United States, whether in preschool or the workplace, it is not beneficial for children to lose fluency in their home language or dialect. Research indicates that different parts of the brain, such as those for spa�al awareness and problem solving, may develop more when children learn different languages (Thomas & Johnson, 2008). Strategies by which teachers and family members can maintain and value home languages for the benefit of children’s learning were discussed in Chapter 1.
Comparison of Immigrant Children to U.S.-Born Children
In comparison to their White U.S.-born peers, immigrants show a disadvantage on several key indicators of children’s health and well-being (Hernandez & Napierala, 2012; Iruka & Gárcia, 2012): Lower rates of health insurance coverage, lower a�endance in early educa�on programs, lower rates of high school gradua�on, lower household incomes, and higher poverty rates. However, immigrant children show be�er outcomes compared to their U.S.-born peers from the same ethnic/racial group and socioeconomic status, a characteris�c known as the immigrant paradox. For example, Black and La�no immigrant children have be�er outcomes related to child health indicators, such as being less likely to be born at a low birth weight or with chronic health problems, and they are more likely to be breas�ed (Crosby & Dunbar, 2012). Although De Feyter and Winsler (2009) found that children of
For a number of reasons, dual language learners, many from immigrant families, have lower academic achievement in reading and math compared to children learning only English.
immigrants scored lower than their U.S.-born peers from the same racial/ethnic groups on academic outcomes, Crosby and Dunbar (2012) report that this is not true when comparing Black immigrants with U.S.-born Blacks in the area of classroom behaviors and academic skills. When socioeconomic status indicators, such as family income, are accounted for, Black immigrants actually outperform even White na�ves in such skills as reading.
The Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI), funded by the Founda�on for Children Development, is the most comprehensive measure of how well America’s children are faring (Hernandez & Napierala, 2012). This index includes measures of family economic well-being (levels of poverty, employment, family income, health insurance), health (rates of infant mortality, low birth weight, mortality, child health, obesity), safe/risky behavior (rates of teen birth, cigare�e smoking, use of alcohol or drugs, being a vic�m of crime, being a crime offender), educa�onal a�ainment (reading and math test scores), community engagement (rates of high school dropout, preschool enrollment, achieving a high school diploma, achieving a bachelor’s degree, vo�ng), social rela�onships (single parent households, mobility), and emo�onal/spiritual well-being (rates of suicide, religious a�endance, importance of religion). This informa�on can help ECE teachers determine how well the families in their classrooms and program are doing compared to other children in areas such as health insurance and living in a poor household.
Presented below are some summary sta�s�cs for the well-being of children of immigrant families in comparison to children from na�ve families, based on the CWI (Hernandez & Napierala, 2012).
Achievement Scores. The Na�onal Assessment of Educa�onal Progress (NAEP, also known as our “Na�on’s Report Card”) does not collect data on whether children are from immigrant families, but by using the term “Dual Language Learners” as a proxy for children from immigrant families and “English Only Learner” as a proxy for children from na�ve families, one can approximate the level of immigrant children’s achievement and learning compared to their na�ve peers. NAEP dis�nguishes students who are performing at or above the proficient level for their grade in reading and math from students who are performing below grade level. Results from the 2011 NAEP assessment indicate that fewer Dual Language Learners than English Only students were proficient in the fourth-grade reading and math tests (Figure 4.6). This low achievement may be linked to the par�cipa�on rates of immigrant and DLL children in pre-K programs or to the quality of programs children are likely to a�end (Hernandez, 2004; Vandell, Belsky, Burchinal, Steinberg, & Vandergri�, 2010).
Figure 4.6: Academic Proficiency in Reading and Math by Language
Source: Hernandez, D. J., & Napierala, J. S. (2012). Children in immigrant families: Essen�al to America’s future, FCD Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI) Policy Brief. New York, NY: Founda�on for Child Development.
Family Income and Poverty Rates. The median family income in 2010 for immigrant families was 29% lower than for U.S.-born families. This translates to a median income for immigrant families of approximately $41,500 compared to U.S.-born families at $58,862. This discrepancy in median income exists despite comparable employment; it is also related to the poverty rates of children in immigrant families compared to children in U.S.-born families (30% vs. 19%). These poverty rates are high for both groups.
Overall Child Well-Being. Children in immigrant families experience a somewhat lower level of overall well-being than children with U.S.- born parents—99 vs. 103 points. This lower general well-being is due to specific factors, such as immigrant children’s lower health insurance coverage, reading and mathema�cs test scores, preschool enrollment, high school gradua�on, and median family income, as well as higher poverty rates than U.S. na�ves. These life challenges have implica�ons for children’s learning and development.
In Hispanic cultures, there is a high value placed on strong rela�onships between immediate and extended family members, as well as contact between mul�ple genera�ons of the same family.
Toddler teacher, Kyoko Uchida, describes the benefit of having immigrant children in the classroom. Immigrant children and families bring different languages and customs, which provide different experiences for children, opening up their mind to different possibili�es.
Cri�cal Thinking Ques�ons
1. Kyoko says that exposing children to different cultures can happen naturally, even outside of formal classroom instruc�onal ac�vi�es. What natural occurences in everyday classroom interac�ons might you use to help children appreciate and value cultural diversity?
2. How might you use such an opportunity to encourage children to think about diversity?
Cultural Competence in Prac�ce
4.3 Immigrant Families’ Strengths and Unique Needs To make progress, immigrants need social capital, the collec�ve or economic benefits derived from the coopera�on between individuals and groups. Indicators of social capital include educa�on, economic resources, and language ability, as well as networks that improve the lives of families and children. People with networks can tap into them when they need a job or want to get their child into a be�er school. Think about how the networking
site LinkedIn® works. One connec�on leads to others who may have access to employment or other helpful informa�on. Teachers and schools and other ins�tu�ons can help build immigrant families’ social capital by providing opportuni�es to connect with other immigrant families and U.S. na�ves.
Family Networks as a Strength
O�en�mes, people immigrate to loca�ons where they have family or close friends that can support them economically, at least temporarily, and help them adjust to their new surroundings. To minimize the isola�on of leaving family behind, many immigrants relocate to areas of the United States where they can connect with individuals or other families from their na�ve country.
In Hispanic cultures, the term familismo denotes the close kinship and �es within immediate and extended families. A high value on family is also common in other cultures. You o�en hear Black immigrants, and also na�ve-born Blacks, refer to non-blood rela�ves as cousins, sisters, aunts, or uncles; anthropologists call this fic�ve kinship. This type of kinship provides families with social capital, which are opportuni�es and resources to help them become economically self-sufficient, as well as offering emo�onal support and deeper social rela�onships, which is o�en helpful to prevent the nega�ve effects of isola�on.
Strong family �es are key survival mechanisms for all families, but especially for immigrant families. Many share housing because they are seeking ways to help one another while also pooling resources (e.g., money, food) and support (e.g., child care).
Though overcrowding has drawbacks, as men�oned earlier, shared housing also has some protec�ve benefits. Some studies have found that being surrounded by family can protect against depression and isola�on because it provides individuals with security and minimizes the impact of stress (Kawachi & Berkman, 2001).
The importance of family �es and bonds for immigrant families is represented in the low rates of divorce among certain immigrant groups and the fact that children of immigrant families are more likely to live in two-parent households compared to U.S. na�ves (Hernandez, 2004).
Funds of Knowledge: Incorporating Culture in Environment and Instruction
The term funds of knowledge (FoK) is an anthropological term first coined by Wolf in 1966; it means “resources and knowledge that households manipulate to make ends meet in the household economy. These include caloric funds, funds for rent, replacement funds, ceremonial funds, and social funds” (Hogg, 2011, p. 667). Researchers from the University of Arizona recognized the importance of this concept in school se�ngs and with minority children, par�cularly immigrant children in the United States. In order to indicate its implica�on for minority families, Moll and Greenberg (1990) defined FoK as “the essen�al cultural prac�ces and bodies of knowledge and informa�on that households use to survive, to get ahead, or to thrive” (p. 321).
Thus, immigrant children and families have knowledge and resources that teachers can use to support children’s learning. For example, some of the immigrant parents in your classroom may have exper�se in a skill like hun�ng. This skill could be used to teach students different parts and types of animals, as well as how human body parts differ from animals’. In other words, families can contribute “intellectual resources” to classroom instruc�on and provide resources to teachers “to draw on student experiences and priori�es in schooling, thus valida�ng student knowledge and life values, and enabling them to scaffold student learning from the familiar” (Hogg, 2011, p. 667).
To learn about these family resources, teachers can conduct home visits that focus on learning and observing family rituals. During these visits, teachers can also observe how parents and children communicate, how children communicate with their siblings or other children in the household, how families deal with challenges, what children enjoy doing, children’s roles in the family, and rituals and rou�nes of families. The Cultural Reflec�on feature, “Exploring the Funds of Knowledge of an Immigrant Family,” will give you a chance to see how this works.
Cultural Reflec�on: Exploring the Funds of Knowledge of an Immigrant Family
You are at the home of Mariela and Manuel Paez and their son Michael, who is in your class. During this home visit, the Paezs have a few friends who drop by unexpectedly, which Mariela explains happens o�en. You also meet other rela�ves, including Michael’s grandfather, grandmother, and cousin. You observe that Michael and the other kids play with marbles and some homemade wood toys. You also no�ce that the children are quiet when they come near the adults. They do not interrupt the adults when they are talking; the parents acknowledge the children by a slight touch or look.
You no�ce that the family members and their friends take their �me in saying good-bye, as if they are not in a rush. You also no�ce that there does not seem to be a place in the living area for Michael to do his school work. You see a lot of musical instruments in the corner, and you see Spanish-language newspapers in the living room. At one point, you no�ce the grandmother telling a story to the kids. At the end of the story, she expresses its moral: If you promise to do something, you must keep your word.
1. What fund of knowledge can you ascertain from this home visit and your observa�ons of Michael in the classroom? 2. Do you understand be�er a�er this visit why Michael does not always come to school on �me and does not always adhere to the
precise schedule you set? How might you incorporate the homemade wooden toys into a class ac�vity? What about the musical instruments? What do they tell you about the family’s interests and skills? How might the family share these with the class? What do the Spanish-language newspapers in the home indicate about the family?
3. What other funds of knowledge do you see, and how can you incorporate them in your classroom?
Needs and Challenges of Immigrant Families
Along with their many strengths and resiliencies, immigrant families have unique needs and challenges. They may not understand some subtle�es of the U.S. English language, including sarcasm, even if they come from an English-speaking country. This may create difficul�es and misconcep�ons during interac�ons. Beyond language, there are also poten�al differences in caregiving and paren�ng, such as whether children should always obey all adults without disagreeing or whether children learn best from listening rather than doing.
Many of the types of jobs open to immigrants (e.g., farming, housekeeping) are low wage. This leads to immigrants making less per hour than their na�ve counterparts, so o�en they need more than one job. Low-paying jobs also o�en require working varying shi�s, including overnights, weekends, and holidays. These types of jobs are hourly and do not provide insurance or benefits, such as sick or vaca�on hours (Or�z, 2002), resul�ng in immigrant families taxing their bodies, health, and minds. Low-wage jobs are likely one reason that children of immigrants are more likely to live in poverty than children of na�ve families (23% vs. 14%) (Camarota, 2012, p. 27).
There are further implica�ons of working low-wage jobs, including the stress of not being able to engage with children’s early educa�on programs and communicate regularly with teachers. (See the Real World Dilemma feature, “Children of Migrant Workers.”) The child’s cogni�ve and emo�onal development may be affected by the parents’ stress level and unavailability to support their learning and emo�onal health. In turn, this may have an effect on the child’s rela�onships and interac�ons with the teacher and peers in the classroom. Studies have shown that parents who face economic difficul�es are less sensi�ve and nurturing, which is associated with children’s lower cogni�ve and emo�onal outcomes (Cabrera, Shannon, West, & Brooks-Gunn, 2006; Iruka, LaFore�, & Odom, 2012).
Real World Dilemma: Children of Migrant Workers
The Migrant Health Promo�on (2013) website defines a migrant farmworker as “someone who has le� his or her permanent residence . . . to work for months or an en�re season in agriculture” (“Who are. . .?” para. 1). Migrant farmworkers generally leave their homes and move to follow the growing season, usually during the months of February to June, and the harves�ng season, usually during the months of July to September. This may require that migrant families relocate several �mes during the year (U.S. Department of Labor, 2000). In addi�on to not having much formal educa�on, over the past decade migrant workers have faced less stable work condi�ons and earned low wages, resul�ng in the likelihood of their living in poverty.
Migrant workers of all kinds also face many job hazards, substandard working and living condi�ons, long hours, and isola�on. They suffer poorer-than-average health and have a lower life expectancy than other workers due to the stresses of their job (Migrant Health Promo�on, 2013).
Children of migrant families have many challenges, including increased mobility and chaos. The federal government funds programs such as Head Start to provide developmental and educa�on programs to migrant children to help minimize the impact of school disrup�ons, family poverty, cultural and linguis�c barriers, and lack of resources. The mobility of families may limit children’s language and socio- emo�onal skills because of inconsistent learning opportuni�es.
4.4 Programmatic and Instructional Practices and Considerations for Immigrant Children and Families ECE programs and teachers can effec�vely support immigrant children’s and families’ integra�on into U.S. society. Based on Vesley and Ginsberg’s (2011) framework, Table 4.1 summarizes the roles of early educa�on programs and teachers in poten�ally minimizing the challenges and future dispari�es experienced by immigrant families and children.
Table 4.1: Ways That Early Childhood Educa�on can Minimize Dispari�es for Immigrant Children
Economic func�on Availability of affordable, quality ECE allows both parents to be employed outside of the home, providing more economic stability, poten�ally reducing the poverty rates. Increase in economic stability would also support more posi�ve and engaged paren�ng prac�ces, as well as strengthen health and emo�onal well-being.
Early educa�on programs that are of high quality with developmentally appropriate prac�ces are associated with posi�ve outcomes for children’s reading, math, and language skills, as well as socio-emo�onal outcomes. Language skills are par�cularly important as many immigrant children o�en reside in households where parents have limited English proficiency. These early cogni�ve outcomes are associated with be�er school outcomes and gradua�on rates and children being able to be�er integrate into U.S. society.
Social func�on Early educa�on environments help children learn how to interact in the United States. Early educa�on teachers can help immigrant families integrate into U.S. culture through their rela�onships with the families. Early educa�on programs and teachers can bridge the cultural gap between immigrant families and other families by providing opportuni�es for connec�ng through specific events and mee�ngs.
Source: Adapted from Vesley, C. K., & Ginsberg, M. R. (2011). Explora�on of the status of services for immigrant families in early childhood educa�on programs. Washington, DC: Na�onal Associa�on for the Educa�on of Young Children.
In their NAEYC report focused on ways to strengthen ECE programs for immigrant families, Vesely and Ginsburg (2011) iden�fy four core principles that support immigrant families: (1) increasing the availability of high-quality ECE to immigrant families, (2) programs building rela�onships with and understanding immigrant families, (3) strengthening immigrant parents’ iden�ty development as well as representa�on and advocacy in the local community, and (4) programs providing ongoing ECE staff development and well-being. We will discuss these principles one by one in the following sec�ons.
Providing Access to Quality ECE Programs for Immigrant Families
ECE programs and staff can be instrumental in ensuring that immigrant families and their children have access to high-quality experiences. Staff can connect families to community programs that service immigrant families; offer to visit and talk with families about their programs and classrooms; and post informa�on at specific events, loca�ons, and online community forums.
ECE programs and staff can also ask immigrant families of children in the program to provide informa�on to other families in their network about their ECE programs, as well as talk about how their child’s high quality ECE program benefits them and their child. This informa�on sharing will likely minimize the reluctance that some immigrant families have about using ECE programs, because their reluctance may be due to their lack of understanding and ability to access high quality programming in their communi�es.
In addi�on to increasing the number of immigrant families that can access high quality ECE programs, early childhood educators must also be educated about social services in the community. Recommenda�ons for ECE teachers and programs are provided in Table 4.2.
Table 4.2: Recommenda�ons for Providing Access to Quality ECE Programs for Immigrant Families
Classrooms Teachers understand what high-quality ECE and developmentally appropriate prac�ces are. Teachers consistently consider how their classroom quality may be improved. Teachers use available resources to improve quality.
In this video, toddler teacher Kyoko Uchida discusses the value and importance of developing a rela�onship with diverse groups of families for both the family and teacher.
Cri�cal Thinking Ques�ons
1. Kyoko says that she enjoys working with immigrant families because it “keeps her learning.” What are some examples of the types of things she might be referring to?
2. What do you think she means when she says the challenges are mostly for the teacher?
Cultural Competence in Prac�ce
Programs Program staff provide outreach to and educa�on of parents of young children. Teachers across all classrooms in a program are convened to discuss best developmentally appropriate prac�ces for working with immigrant families.
Community High-quality programs (center- or home-based) are developed in all communi�es. Programs develop rela�onships with local public schools. Programs partner with immigrant-serving organiza�ons to enroll families in programs.
Source: Vesely, C. K., & Ginsberg, M. R. (2011). Explora�on of the status of services for immigrant families in early childhood educa�on programs. Washington, DC: Na�onal Associa�on for the Educa�on of Young Children.
Building Relationships With Immigrant Children and Families
Researchers have found that parents are very interested and invested in their children’s ECE experiences; they welcome and seek out opportuni�es to discuss their children’s progress with their teachers, but teachers receive li�le guidance or prepara�on for working with immigrant children and families (Tobin, 2009). As discussed earlier, the reasons o�en given for immigrant children’s lower achievement are their language ability, poverty, lack of mo�va�on, and family challenges. “Commi�ed and dedicated teachers may truly believe in, and despair of, their students’ perceived constraints,” says educa�on professor Linda Hogg, “but tragically this deficit theorizing mindset ul�mately leads to expecta�on and acceptance of low academic achievement” (2011, p. 666).
Researchers have challenged this deficit perspec�ve by asking teachers to self-reflect on how their biases and cultural experiences may affect the experiences they provide for children, and how they can incorporate children’s cultures in their school experiences (see the Cultural Reflec�on feature, “Checking Our Biases”). Teachers need to become involved in and aware of the lives and resources of immigrant children and their families.
Cultural Reflec�on: Checking Our Biases