Family Child Care and New Immigrants: Cultural Bridge and Support

Article excerpt

Immigrants usually face an array of problems and stressors in the United States. After the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the local department of social services, family child care providers may be the primary external influence that new immigrants experience. This article describes a program for new immigrants from the former Soviet Union designed to buffer some of the stressors confronting the new immigrant, to act as a bridge between cultures, and to facilitate employment or vocational training of immigrant parents. Client descriptors from the past three years of the program are presented, and the experiences of four randomly selected clients are profiled. General implications for family child care for immigrant families are discussed.

The effects of child day care on young children's social and cognitive development have been hotly debated in both the academic and political arenas, and have been the focus of the bulk of child day care research. Studies variously indicate that child day care may have negative, disruptive effects on aspects of young children's development

Belsky 1988

, or positive, protective effects

Caughy et al. 1994

. A striking feature of much of this debate is that it contrasts child day care with maternal home care, with the implicit assumption that the use of the former is a choice. In light of the growing number of women in the labor force, however -- more than half of all women with children under the age of six work outside the home

Chilman 1993

-- child day care is a necessity and not an option for the majority of parents of the six million children currently using such services Adams 1990

. Studies that focus on how various factors in child day care differentially affect outcomes

e.g., Phillips 1994

are likely to prove the most useful in designing effective policy.

Mirroring much of the field of child welfare, studies of child day care have tended to deal almost exclusively with outcomes for individual children, and generally have not closely examined the impact of child day care on the family system. In regard to new immigrant families, for example, child day care can play a major role in facilitating their adjustment to a new country. The impact of child day care services on new immigrants seems particularly worth scrutiny since the majority of new immigrants to the United States are in their child-bearing years and are members of the working poor

Bouvier & Gardner 1986

. For many of these new immigrants, child day care serves as the primary point of extrafamilial contact. This article discusses how family child care can help immigrant families, and describes a family child care program designed to serve a particular group of immigrants -- families from the former Soviet Union.

Even under the best of circumstances, recent immigrants may face such stresses as culture shock, communication difficulties, status and social-role upheaval, and isolation

Lequerica 1993

. With the added stress of pervasive economic struggles, new immigrant families often are at risk for interpersonal and mental health problems

Kelley 1994

. Child day care in general, and family child care in particular, may see as a buffer for these young families and ease their introduction to the new culture. Family child care, in which a provider cares for a small group of children in her or his own home, is particularly well suited for serving the needs of immigrant families. When matched to the cultural and linguistic background of the immigrant family, providers are intrinsically culturally sensitive. This matching creates a familiar, accessible point of entry for both the immigrant parents and their young children, reducing stress and strangeness. A culturally supportive environment fosters a child's sense of security and self-concept

Washington 1985

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