Experiences of migrant children: at home abroad

09 May 2012

Schools, local councils and professionals need better guidance and training to work with migrant families from Eastern Europe and their children, according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Researchers from the University of Strathclyde found that many children had positive experiences after migration, but a number experienced racism, some struggled with language and some found access to services more problematic than in their home countries. The research looked at the experiences of children who arrived in Scotland from the new accession countries after the expansion of European Union in 2004. 

The final report of the study makes a series of policy recommendations: 

  • There should be national guidance for local authorities to reduce variations in services between different areas, and its implementation should be monitored

  • Schools need better funding and guidance to support migrant children, possibly through a new ‘pupil premium’ entitlement

  • Initiatives aimed at tackling racism should be well-funded and sustained

  • Professionals working with families need clearer guidance and better training to increase the quality of provision for new migrant groups

The researchers held a series of focus groups and case studies with children and also spoke to parents, teachers and professionals working with the new migrants. Dr Daniela Sime, said migrant families from Eastern Europe were an under-represented group. "This study gave the young participants a voice and recognised that their experiences are shared. It also gave them an opportunity to offer ideas on how provision can be improved to support migrant families with children," she said.

Many children talked about their resilience in coping with their new lives: "I was scared. But then we got a house, I went to school and I just kept going every day, and in the end I was fine," a 12 year-old boy named Vladislav from Lithuania said.

Some had traumatic experiences and found it very hard to settle in. Andrzej, a father from Poland, said his family had been afraid to go out of their flat: "It was terrible. There were drunk teenagers shouting abuse almost every day, banging at our door, drawing swastikas on our door. The police were here almost every week."

Most families had good experiences of the education system, although some said their children were working below their level of ability. However, their views on the health system were less positive. Several had travelled to Eastern Europe to get treatment. "My child has asthma and they said you need to wait two months for a specialist," said Agatha, a mother from Poland. "So I just decided to take a flight to Poland and see the doctor we know there."

Social and family networks were important, and some participants described feeling lonely, missing friends, family and even pets. "We hardly have anyone opening the door. Back home, the house was always full. So we have to manage and look after the children by ourselves, which is hard and lonely at times," said Berta, a Polish mother. For most participants in the study, being 'at home abroad' meant a stressful and challenging time for family relationships and a sense of uncertainty about belonging to their country of origin and their new land.

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Notes for editors:

  1. This release is based on the findings from 'At home abroad: the life experiences of children of eastern European migrant workers in Scotland.' The project brought new insights for academics, policy makers and service providers and resulted in a conference for practitioners working with migrant children in 25 Scottish local authorities. Visit the project website for current events.
  2. The project involved 11 focus groups with 57 children as well as 28 detailed case studies with families, 19 interviews with service providers and a seminar with 120 teachers. The majority of the migrant interviewees were Polish, and the rest were Bulgarian, Romanian, Ukrainian, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian and Lithuanian. The study focused on children aged between seven and 14 who settled in Scotland after 2004. The number of children with English as an additional language in Scottish schools more than doubled between 2006 and 2011, to 24,555. All names used are pseudonyms.
  3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2011/12 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at www.esrc.ac.uk
  4. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peers review. The research has been graded as good