Immigrant Fathers

FIRA Research Identifies Key Factors Affecting Immigrant Fathers

FIRA’s Immigrant Fathers Cluster, led by David Este, professor of Social Work at the University of Calgary, has been examining the impact of immigrant or refugee status on the fathering role through in-depth interviews with men from the Russian and Sudanese immigrant communities.

Dr. Este has already identified a number of often inter-related stressors affecting immigrant fathers. One of the most important is related unemployment and underemployment.

Previous research has shown that while most immigrants to Canada eventually do well, many have a hard time finding jobs when they first come to Canada. Some immigrant fathers and mothers experience long periods of unemployment and/or have difficulty obtaining jobs in the field they worked in prior to immigration. Non-recognition of foreign credentials has previously been identified as a key policy issue for the Canadian government in terms of reducing unemployment and underemployment in immigrants and also relieving shortages of professionals in area such as medicine.

Dr. Este and his colleagues have identified ways that being unemployed or under employed can prevent men from feeling confident as fathers and assuming the kind of fathering role they see as important. “Not only is it difficult for these fathers to meet their children’s material needs, which they see as a very important part of their role, they also worry about being the right kind of role model for their children,” says Dr. Este. “Specifically, unemployed or underemployed immigrant fathers worry that their children might get the message that working hard and getting a good education, which these men did in their home countries, does not translate into good employment opportunities.”

In immigrant families with children, it is not uncommon for the mother to be the first one to find a job. This is beneficial to the family’s survival, but can leave the father in a role-reversal situation that he was not prepared for. “In many cultures, being the at-home parent is not a role that fathers are expected to play,” says Dr. Este.

At the other end of the spectrum, some immigrant fathers who find employment, must work two or three low-paying jobs in order to make ends meet. Consequently they are unable to spend as much time with their children as they would like. “Raising children is challenging to begin with. Parenting in the context of adapting to a new country is also challenging, “ Dr. Este observes. “When you add factors such as reduced confidence, lack of time and worries about being a poor role model it’s easy to see that the effects could be very significant in some families.

Additional factors which impact on the fathering role played by immigrant men include social isolation, barriers to accessing helping services and trauma induced by war or enforced refugee status.

To date, FIRA’s Immigrant Fathers Cluster has produced five conference presentations, one journal article, one literature review on fathers completed by PhD student, Admasu Tachble, and a book chapter in press. Future products will include presentations to community-based agencies, along with more conference presentations and scholarly works.

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