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Migraciones internacionales

versión On-line ISSN 2594-0279versión impresa ISSN 1665-8906

Migr. Inter vol.6 no.2 Tijuana jul./dic. 2011




Social Perception of Risk and Protection Factors for the Children of Emigrant Mothers: A Study in the Dominican Republic


Percepción social de factores de riesgo y de protección para los hijos de madres emigrantes: Un estudio en la República Dominicana


Juan de Dios Uriarte Arciniega


Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea. Dirección electrónica:


Fecha de recepción: 8 de noviembre de 2009.
Fecha de aceptación: 18 de marzo de 2010.



The feminization of work–related migration alters family roles and relationships and has a direct impact on the development of the children left behind. The purpose of this study is to show the risk and protection factors perceived in Dominican society for children when the mother emigrates. Risk factors include a lack of mother–child communication; being demanding in relationships; and an anomalous substitute family atmosphere. Conversely, protection factors encompass frequent communication with the mother; an affectionate relationship between the guardian and the child; when the guardian is a family member who is very close to the mother and the promotion of values such as thrift, effort and sacrifice. The results of social perception coincide with existing literature, but it is debatable whether the factors perceived are actually those that most affect the psychological and social development of children left behind by migration.

Keywords: female migration, children left behind, risk and protection factors, Caribbean transnational family, Dominican Republic.



La feminización de la migración laboral altera los roles y relaciones familiares e impacta en el desarrollo de los niños que quedan en el lugar de origen. El objetivo del estudio es mostrar los factores de riesgo y de protección percibidos en la sociedad dominicana para los hijos cuando emigra la madre. Como factores de riesgo destacan: la falta de comunicaciones entre madre e hijo; ser exigente en las relaciones; y el ambiente familiar sustituto anómalo. En cambio, son factores de protección: la comunicación frecuente con la madre y las relaciones afectuosas entre la tutora y el hijo. Cuando ésta es un familiar muy cercano a la madre, fomenta valores como el ahorro, el esfuerzo y el sacrificio. Los resultados de la percepción social coinciden con la literatura existente, pero se discute si los factores percibidos son los que más afectan el desarrollo psicosocial de los niños que quedan atrás por la migración.

Palabras clave: migración femenina, niños que quedan atrás, factores de riesgo y protección, familia transnacional del Caribe, República Dominicana.



In recent decades, research on labor migration has revealed new dimensions beyond the social and economic impact in the countries of origin and destination, such as the feminization of migration, the transnational family, and regrouping. Together with the economic and social benefits, the parent–child separation caused by labor migration entails family and emotional costs (Bernhard, Landolt and Goldring, 2005; Villegas, 2004), and becomes a potential psychosocial risk factor by producing insufficient availability to address the needs of the child, challenging affective bonds. Although it is currently difficult to quantify, the rise in female labor migration in several areas of Asia, Latin America and Europe suggests that millions of children live separated from their mothers for several years. These children constitute the so–called "barrel children phenomenon", or more recently, "the Western Union children" (Crawford–Brown, 1999): those who stay behind, in the country of origin, without the direct care of their parents, waiting for migratory success and family reunification while they directly or indirectly receive numerous material goods. This is the situation in the Dominican Republic, where a large number of mothers decide to autonomously migrate. The purpose of this study is to undertake a preliminary analysis of the psychosocial variables that occur before and after departure, and may become new risk and protection factors for the children left behind, based on the perceptions of these factors by a significant sample of Dominican professionals with in–depth knowledge of the issue.

The concepts of risk and protection have various meanings for researchers. A risk factor is understood as a biological, psychological or social condition that increases the likelihood that a psychosocial maladjustment or disorder will occur. A protection factor is an element derived from the person or his surroundings that decreases the probability of a non–adaptive result or increases the possibility that normal development will be produced in adverse conditions. Risk and protection factors exist at all ages, and maintain complex subject–context inter–relations in the course of development (Angold and Costello, 2005; Arrington and Wilson, 2004; Ezpeleta, 2005; Puy, 2001; Rodrigo et al., 2008; Theis, 2003). The effects of the mother's absence on the psychosocial development of children left behind are not univocal. Instead, they depend on the particular combination that occurs of the various risk and protection factors.


Female Migration and the Situation of ChildrenWho Remain in the Place of Origin

Latin American and Caribbean female migration accounts for roughly 50 percent of international migrations (García and Paiewonsky, 2006; Zlotnik, 2006). Unlike in the past, many women nowadays decide to emigrate on their own, leaving their families behind, including young children (Paiewonsky, 2007a; Vicente, 2006). For these women, the decision forms part of a personal project determined, among other things, by poverty, labor discrimination, gender inequalities, their position as heads of household, the lack of opportunities to prosper, the cultural impact of migration on local environments, social networks (Balbuena, 2003; Cortés, 2006; Herrera, 2003), and expectations of employability in the destination country. They aspire to obtain sufficient resources to improve their quality of life and meet their children's needs in a healthier social environment. In addition, for some women, emigration is a way of escaping from a personal situation that is undesirable, unsafe or involves a conflictive partner (Bernhard, Landolt and Goldring, 2005; Pedone, 2006b; Ruiz, 2002).

International migration is a widespread phenomenon in Dominican society. The 2008 Global Human Development Report issued by the United Nations Development Program (PNUD, 2008) reports an emigration rate of 9.1 percent in the Dominican Republic, of which 52 percent are women and 48 percent men. In fact, precise figures are difficult to calculate, given that some migration is irregular and therefore undocumented. According to the Dominican Republic's National Office of Statistics (Oficina Nacional de Estadística—ONE, 2008), approximately 1 500 000 persons have left the country to emigrate. Two out of three of these went to the United States, and the rest mainly to Spain or Canada. According to another source, 52 percent of Dominican immigrants in the United States and 64 percent of Dominican im migrants in Spain, are women (Paiewonsky, 2007b). Female Dominican immigrants in Spain have an average fertility rate of 2.5 children, of which at least one dependent child per woman remains in the Dominican Republic, cared for primarily by the mother's relatives, such as grandmothers, aunts, or older daughters, or by other women who are financially compensated for their services (Novalbos et al., 2008).

The study on the social perception of risk and protection factors in young children linked to maternal migration was conducted on a sample of professionals from San Francisco de Macorís, the main city in the province of Duarte in the northeastern region of the Dominican Republic. According to data reported by the country's National Office of Statistics, in 2002, the average age of the population in the province of Duarte was 27.9; the masculinity index in 2007 was 102.5 per 100 women, above the national average; 22.6 percent of births in 2003 were to mothers under 20, and 49.6 percent of households were poor. Whereas nearly 50 percent of working–age persons are assumed to be women, only 37 percent engage in some form of employment, often in informal jobs. The migratory balance for the 1997–2002 period is negative: 59 percent corresponds to women, accounting for 20.9 percent of residents in 2002 (ONE, 2008).

Despite its scope, research on the emotional impact of maternal migration on the children left behind is incipient (O'Connell and Farrow, 2007; Pottinger, Stair and Brown, 2008; Yeoh and Lam, 2006). UNICEF (2008) has compiled data from nationallevel studies: approximately one million children are left behind by their emigrant mothers in Sri Lanka; almost nine million children, approximately 27 percent of all children, live apart from one or both parents in the Philippines whereas in Moldavia, 5.4 percent of children under age 14 are left behind by both parents. In 2002, 13 percent of Mexican immigrants and 22 percent of Salvadoran immigrants living in the United States had children in their countries of origin. And in 2001, 5 percent of Ecuadoran children and adolescents lived without their parents due to immigration (Pedone, 2006a). There is a similar trend in El Salvador, Jamaica, Albania, and Rumania. The National Institute of Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadística—INE) reports that close to 435 000 adult immigrants from Latin America live in Spain without their children. And approximately 760 000 children under 16, immigrant children, are geographically separated from their parents, with the majority, around 86 percent, living in their country of origin (INE, 2008). In the Basque Country, data indicate that 50 percent of immigrants have children living in their countries of origin (Basabe, Zlobina and Páez, 2004). In addition to accompanying their husbands or for the purpose of family reunification, the migratory movements of Central American women toward the United States reflect the trend to autonomously emigrate and leave children in the country of origin for several years prior to reunification (Díaz and Kuhner, 2007; Suárez–Orozco, Todorova and Louie, 2002). After their departure, many women discover the difficulties involved in family reunification and are concerned about the poorly adjusted behaviors of their children in origin: dropping out of school, mixing with "the wrong crowd", unsuitable consumption, and disobedience (Bernhard, Landolt and Goldring, 2005; Bertino, Arnaiz and Pereda, 2006; Suárez–Orozco, Todorova and Louie, 2002).

In the case of Dominican migrant mothers, the migratory project is actually a family project that includes children (Novalbos et al., 2008). In anticipation of their departure, future migrants consult and make important decisions that affect the family. Obtaining the money required for the trip and settling in the destination, taking care of young children, administering remittances, long–distance communication, and perspectives for regrouping, are some of the issues that need to be arranged beforehand (Herrera, 2003; Novalbos et al., 2008).

The extended family and matrifocal models are a well–established feature of the Caribbean region and the Dominican Republic, heavily influencing women's migratory processes (García and Paiewonsky, 2006; Scotland, 2006). When the migrant woman is the household's primary economic provider, the roles of the father, siblings, the family of the substitute caretaker (usually female), and other relatives of the child must make the necessary adjustments to take on new tasks and responsibilities, and to handle the conflicts that emerge between these tasks and responsibilities and traditional family values (Carrillo, 2005; Ospina y Vanderbilt, 2009; Pedone, 2006b; Reyes, 2008). Nevertheless, family relations that extend beyond the classic nucleus, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and the child's godparents, may act as a protective shield from feelings of loneliness and the lack of mother–child contacts (Javier and Camacho–Gingerich, 2004).

Dominican international migration may be viewed as a personal life project and a standard option rather than deviant behavior (Novalbos et al. 2008; Waters, 1999). The results of the Gallup–Hoy survey indicate that 57 percent of Dominicans would be willing to leave the country to work and live if the opportunity arose. Having a family that progresses abroad can be said to produce confidence, pride, and support for those left behind (Carrillo, 2005). However, society's perception of the migratory phenomenon varies depending on whether the person who migrates is the father, son, daughter, or mother who leaves behind her children. In this case, it is ambivalent to say the least, insofar as certain values continue to apply regarding the family, parental roles, authority, women's role, and children's upbringing (Paiewonsky, 2007a), aspects that clash with the benefits and consequences of migration. Social perception may thereby stigmatize children left behind, regarding them as "abandoned" by the mother, victims of the loss of family structure, and at risk of social maladjustment (Carrillo, 2005; Herrera, 2003; Pedone, 2006a; UNICEF, 2008).

Existing studies agree that alterations of family structure, in particular those that result in the parents' insufficient emotional availability, lengthy separation from the primary caregiver, and handing children over to another person, favor the appearance of various psychological disorders in children and teenagers, although not necessarily clinical–level disorders (Falicov, 2005; Golombock, 2006; Javier and Camacho–Gingerich, 2004; Lemos, 1996; Rutter, 1971; Theis, 2003; Toro, 2005). Preliminary results suggest that migratory separation affects children's emotional wellbeing more seriously than divorce, death, abandonment, or parents' institutionalization (Pottinger, Stair and Brown, 2008). However, available data indicate that results cannot simply be transferred from some situations to others, especially if the family structure prior to and after the separation is not specified (Yeoh and Lam, 2006). Other important differences also exist: migratory separation is primarily a physical and transitory absence, not a definitive loss. It is not associated with conflict, illness, maladjustment, or the death of the mother, father or both, but rather a family project considered to be potentially positive.

For various reasons unrelated to migration, many Dominican fathers tend to abandon family responsibilities regarding their children, and when the mothers, the primary household breadwinners, decide to emigrate, the children usually remain in the care of other women in the family, as an agreement between individuals and in some cases conditioned by financial compensation. This is obviously different from family members taking in children in the event of abandonment, for example. For the children, the situation implies moving to another home, the transfer of authority, and having to live with new people, all circumstances not exempt from conflicts that become risk factors associated with maternal absence (Carrillo, 2005; Crawford–Brown and Rattray, 2001, cited by Pottinger, 2005; García, 2005). Apparently, mothers fulfill material needs from afar while the children's emotional needs are met by the persons who are physically and psychologically closer (Adams, 2000). But in practice, guardians' family links do not necessarily guarantee an affective bond, proper educational practices, a positive vision of the mother's departure, or the emotional support children need during the years the motherchild separation lasts (Aguilera–Guzmán, et al., 2004; Pottinger, 2005; Pottinger, Stair and Brown, 2008).

Despite her original expectations, the mother is also affected by numerous problems in the country of destination associated with the fact of being an immigrant. These issues are a source of stress for her and condition her feelings, cognitions and subsequent behaviors in relation to her children (Bertino, Arnaiz and Pereda, 2006), coupled with her homesickness, worry, and guilt over the prolonged separation from her family and the difficulties faced in maintaining control over her children (Bernhard, Landolt and Goldring, 2005; Zarza and Sobrino, 2007). These situations generate relational stress and pose a risk for children, since children's and parents' malaise are closely linked (Méndez, 2009; Rodrigo et al., 2008).

Current migratory processes have well–differentiated characteristics according to the variability of the migrants, the period in which the migration occurs, and the psychosocial conditions in the places of origin and destination. While it is true that social perception is part of the context in which Dominican mothers emigrate, understanding the situation of the children left behind requires taking other risk and protection factors into account: previous migratory experience; rural or urban surroundings; the type of family of origin (nuclear, extended, single parent); the gender differences of the parents; the mother–child relationship and the relationship of each with the father, siblings, and extended family prior to departure; the personal and family characteristics of the guardian, and the evolution of relationships during the period of separation (Ardila and Madarro, 2007). Carrillo (2005) identifies five factors that condition the child's response to separation from the migrant parent: a) substitute parents; b) communication maintained between parent and child; c) frequency of remittances; d) support from the extended family, and e) perspectives for family reunification.

From the point of view of psychosocial development, the absence of migrant parents is one of the most stressful occurrences that affect the health, education, psychological wellbeing, and social behaviors of children left behind (Avellanosa, 2006; Moreira, 2004; Paredes, Bravo and Calle, 2004; Gindling and Poggio, 2008; PNUD, 2008; Pottinger, 2005; UNICEF, 2008; Yeoh and Lam, 2006). In studies comparing samples of the children of emigrant parents and non–emigrant parents, the results regarding anxiety, happiness, and feelings of loneliness experienced by the children do not coincide. However, they note that the differences might be explained by the influence of other factors such as frequency of communication, personal characteristics of the children, and whether the migrant is the mother (García Coll, 2005; Yeoh and Lam, 2006). Contrary to popular belief (Asis, 2006, cited by Yeoh and Lam, 2006), positive consequences have also been found in health and education: Ecuadorian youth who are the children of emigrants perceive themselves as more responsible than their peers without emigrant parents, and feel they "have had to learn to have self–discipline in their studies and inside the home" (Carrillo, 2005:370). The study by Artamónova (2007) questions whether the children of migrants living abroad who receive remittances are problem students within the Colombian education system. However, empirically based and methodologically controlled studies on the consequences of migration among the children left behind are not available for the Dominican Republic (Paiewonsky, 2007b).

Risk and protection factors may be situated in time, prior to and after the mother's departure. The following may be risk factors for the child prior to emigration: careless, precipitated or unplanned designation of the guardian; if the guardian is not a family member of the mother or does not have a good prior relationship; failure to inform the child of the decision to leave in a correct and timely manner. On the other hand, the following are protection factors prior to emigration: planning and establishment of agreements regarding the child's upbringing; confidence regarding the proper use of remittances; good relations with the family member; the fact that the family understand and support the mother's decision; properly informing the child, including psychological preparation and the use of non–blaming reasons. After her departure, the mother's problems in the destination may constitute risk factors for the child: financial difficulties; postponement of reunification schedules; distrust of the substitute caregivers; legal difficulties in carrying out visits, and the creation of a new family in the destination (Bertino, Arnaiz and Pereda, 2006; Smith, Lalonde and Johnson, 2004; Yeoh and Lam, 2006).

Female migration and the situation of the children left behind are the object of judgments by other persons in the environment, who affect them through their attitudes and behaviors (Castorina, Barreiro and Barreiro, 2006; Jolonch, 2002), possibly constituting cultural risk factors (García Coll, 2005; Farnós de los Santos and Sanmartín, 2005). To delve further into this perspective, the study seeks to identify the social perception of the risk and protection factors associated with absence of the Dominican emigrant mother that may affect the development and psychological wellbeing of the children who stay in the place of origin. It is both a description and an exploration of a social reality that has scarcely been studied to date, but its results may guide studies on the effects of migratory separation and improve psychosocial prevention and intervention. The study is limited to the case of the absence of the migrant mother, in recognition of what she represents in the child's development and the role she occupies in Dominican family structure. The study does not contemplate the absence of the father, which may be due to reasons other than migration. The Delphi technique is used to compile the overlapping social perceptions of qualified informants from the environment of Dominican migrant families (Landeta, 1999) insofar as they form part of the context in which the children's lives take place (Jolonch, 2002).




The Delphi process began in 2007 with 44 significant informants from San Francisco de Macorís, Dominican Republic, including teachers, school counselors, clinical psychologists, school directors, university professors, doctors and religious ministers. They were all characterized as being professionals in contact with children and families in which maternal migration had occurred, and were therefore familiar with the issue raised and willing to voluntarily participate in the process.


1. The group was informed that the general aim of the study was to determine "the effects on young children of separation from the mother due to emigration". The professionals were also informed of the requirements of their participation in accordance with the Delphi method. In the first round of participation, the informants were asked to freely respond to the following questions: a) In addition to the fact that the mother is located far away, what other situations that involve the child affect him or her in this situation, positively or negatively? b) What is the influence of the child's age? c) What is the influence of the child's sex? d) If you were asked to provide professional or personal advice to benefit the child, what would be the negative facts or circumstances to be eliminated or reduced and what would be the positive facts or circumstances to be created or encouraged? e) What personal characteristics or environmental circumstances mean that certain children are not or do not appear to be affected by the mother's emigration? The participants answered the first questionnaire privately and submitted it to the moderator after a few days. They included personal data on their professional degrees, professional activity, age, gender, and degree of direct (personally knows the children involved) and indirect (knows the issue through literature, the media, other professionals in contact, etcetera), knowledge of the issue under study, with three options to respond to each: "a lot", "little", or "nothing".

2. A total of 151 responses were selected that could be grouped into one of the two categories: risk factors or protection factors, yielding 77 and 74 valid content units, respectively. A new questionnaire was then designed that summarized the most important factors: 19 risk factors and 24 protection factors.

Within each category, two subsets of items were drawn up that facilitated evaluation by order of importance. The items were worded with the aim of respecting the expressions used by the informants.

3. Approximately three months after the first phase, the 44 participants were contacted and informed of the process followed, which resulted in the second questionnaire. The participants were then asked to fill out the second questionnaire anonymously. Oral and written instructions were given to the participants to ask them to indicate, in each section and in each subset of variables, those items which in their view were the most important and best reflected the circumstances that in–crease the risks of psychological alterations for the child whose mother is abroad, as well as the protective circumstances for children that reduce or buffer the negative effects of the situation of having their mothers abroad. To focus their answers, the number of items to be ranked was two less than the total items in each subset. The most important item in the subset was ranked 1, the next was ranked 2, and so on. The values of the rankings varied from 1 to 7, 1 to 8, and 1 to 10, according to the different subsets.


Data Analysis

For the final analysis of responses, questionnaires completed by participants who admitted knowing "nothing" directly or indirectly regarding the situation of children of migrant mothers and "little" of both types of knowledge were discarded. This methodology was used to calculate the data from 35 participants, including 26 women and 9 men (average age = 41.03; standard deviation = 10.31), called significant informants for this study, given that they declared that they knew "a lot" about the situation either directly or indirectly or had "a lot" of one type of knowledge and a "little" of the other.

In order to be able to compare the scores attributed to the different factors when the total number of choices in each subset was not the same, all the scores were standardized on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = greatest importance; 10 = least importance). Descriptive statistical analyses were then carried out of the percentage of times each variable/factor was selected and the mean score of the ranking. A lower mean score indicates higher importance perceived by the informants.



For the purpose of clarity, risk and protection factors have been divided into three categories according to where the factor is primarily located: 1) individual factors concerning the child; 2) family factors concerning the family of origin and those who share the current home; 3) social factors involving relations with peers and the wider social context. After arranging them according to the mean score, the 10 most important risk and protection factors were given.

Individual Risk and Protection Factors

The results of the importance attributed by the informants to personal characteristics and individual risk and protection behaviors are shown in table 1. The most important individual risk factors are attitudes or behaviors described as: "is demanding" (X = 4.13; SD = 2.73), when the child insistently demands attention or resources for him or herself, and: "is boastful" (X = 4.63; SD = 3), meaning that the child proudly exhibits and boasts about his possessions, possibly obtained through the remittances sent by the mother. In third place, with a very high percentage of selection (82.85 %), the characteristic of "watches a lot of television" is considered a risky behavior (X = 4.73; SD = 2.89). The possibility of "engages in inappropriate behavior" (X = 5; SD = 2.84) occupies fourth position, which, in the absence of more detail, may refer to the consumption of alcohol or illegal substances. The fifth factor is: "if the children isolate themselves" (X = 5.04; SD = 3.1) from their family members, guardians or friends, perhaps because this might reflect a lack of social interest or mean that the child has a tendency to feel sad. The sixth item is: "has sexual relations very early" (X = 5.27; SD = 2.79), which may result in: "has a child at an early age", the mean score of which occupied the last position in this group of factors (X = 6.73; SD = 3).

Whereas in the first round of questionnaires, the informants only slightly noted the tendency that younger children adapted better than older children, the second round ranked the following factor, "age: younger children adapt sooner to the new situation"(X = 5.02; SD = 3.61) second among individual protection factors, and in an intermediate position in the overall set. The protective personal characteristics identified are: "the child is happy and usually in a good mood" (X = 5.14; SD = 2.83); "assumes age–appropriate responsibilities" (X = 5.22; SD = 3.38) "the child is obedient and easy to deal with"(X = 5.83; SD = 3.4), and "is organized at home"(X = 6.33; SD = 2.74). Regarding his studies: "obtains positive schoolresults"(X = 6.26; SD = 2.9) is perceived as a positive factor although it does not occupy an outstanding place of importance.

Family Risk and Protection Factors

Factors related to the family environment have been divided between those conditioned by members of the family of origin: mother, father, siblings (see table 2), and those related to the current substitute household (see table 3), where the guardian figure occupies a key position.

The family risk factor of "lack of communication between the child and the mother" is perceived as the most important of all, standing out strongly from the rest (X = 2.46; SD = 2.45). Given the conditions of geographic separation between the mother and child, this is understood to refer to communication via telephone and the Internet, and is generally initiated by the mother. The following family risk factor refers once again to the mother's action and occurs when "the child is not informed or prepared for the mother's departure"(X = 5.64; SD = 2.84). The third family factor perceived as a risk, albeit ranked lower than those already mentioned, is when "the mother has a family in the destination country" (X = 6.11; SD = 2.81), without clarifying whether this refers to some type of family regrouping that has taken place or whether she has expanded the family with new members during the separation.

Protection factors related to the original family nucleus are the exact opposites of respective risk factors. The most outstanding factor, selected by 94.28 percent of the informants among the highest ranking options in importance, is " frequent communication with the mother"(X = 2.12; SD = 2.04), carried out mainly over the telephone or to a lesser degree through the Internet. Other protection factors are: "if the mother's relations with the child prior to departure were good"(X = 4.23; SD = 2.72), and if "the mother informed the child ahead of time and prepared him for her departure" (X = 4.38; SD = 2.67).

Two factors refer to the father figure: whether the child has "a positive relationship with the father"(X = 4.52; SD = 3.01), and whether "the father actually follows up on the child"(X = 4.61; SD = 2.85), which reveal the need for the father figure in the development of the child, perhaps felt more strongly given the mother's lack of proximity. When the child has brothers or sisters, it is perceived to be a protective factor if "the siblings, if they exist, remain together"(X = 4.44; SD = 2.44).

The perception of "economic improvement and increased material resources"(X = 4.49; SD = 2.6) as a family protection factor is not only protective for financial reasons but also because it is evidence that the mother's decision includes her child and becomes present through her remittances. This factor is very closely related to the next one, both quantitatively and qualitatively. "Promotion of values such as thrift, effort and sacrifice"(X = 4.02; SD = 2.78) has a positive educational meaning in itself and results in the improvement of the family economy. In this context it may also help the child to better understand the decision made by the mother, endure her absence, and regard her as an example of the values that the family wants to instill.

Risk and Protection Factors in the Substitute Home

Adverse circumstances for the child may be produced in the home in which he now spends his time. As shown in table 3, the informants ranked a possible "anomalous family environment: violence, abuse"(X = 3.92; SD = 2.93) second in importance among risk factors. In the opposite sense but also potentially damaging are the following factors: "satisfaction of many of the child's whims" (X = 4.17; SD = 2.99) and "overprotection" (X = 4.53; SD = 2.79) in reference to giving in to demands that are irrelevant to the child's development or education and limit his autonomy and efforts to achieve certain goals. Potential risk is also perceived "when the child does not receive affection in the current home"(X = 4.83; SD = 3.08) primarily from the guardian who is substituting for the mother. Failure to meet the emotional needs of the child is also inherent in the risk factor of "neglect and abandonment by the guardian"(X = 4.98; SD = 3.42), which together with "lack of an authority figure in the home" (X = 5.41; SD = 2.75) are the two factors in this section that received the highest percentage of selections (88.57 %). This shows that the absence of the emigrant mother and the father, the traditional authority figure in the Dominican family but often also absent from the children's daily lives, would pose greater risks to the child if the substitute guardian did not adequately perform the parental functions that society feels she should. Lastly, the possibility that "the guardian regrets having assumed guardianship"(X = 6.24; SD = 2.81) obtained a low score compared with the importance attributed to the rest. Nevertheless, the number of informants who indicated it as a risk factor is moderately high (74.28 %).

When the mother and father are absent, even if for different reasons, "demonstrations of positive affection by the guardian"(X = 3.42; SD = 2.51) ranked second in importance among protection factors, while "support and protection by the guardian" (X = 4.73; SD = 2.94) may be compensatory factors for the family affections unavailable to the child. This reflects the perceptions of the large majority of informants (94.28 and 88.57 %, respectively). The next most important protection factor is "when the guardian is a family member who is very close to the mother" (X = 3.99; SD = 3.08). Contrary to the estimated risks of inappropriate consumption and the display of technological devices, clothing, shoes, and other objects acquired through remittances, and in the same perspective mentioned above of fostering the values of thrift, effort and sacrifice, "control and reduction of unnecessary consumption by the child"(X = 4.59; SD = 3.25) is identified as a positive factor. If "the guardian transmits a positive view of the mother" to the child (X = 4.89; SD = 2.52), including the qualities demonstrated in her decision, the evidence of her non–abandonment and of the benefits she contributes despite her difficult situation in the destination country, this becomes a key protection factor. The guardian's work extends beyond household boundaries and is transformed into a protection factor "when he or she knows and monitors the child's friendships"(X = 5.52; SD = 2.95) and " follows up on the child's school performance"(X = 6.2; SD = 2.43). Perhaps as a reflection of the child's integration within the substitute family, it is considered positive to "carry out family activities together" (X = 5.68; SD = 2.94).

Social Risk Factors and Protection Factors

An important risk is perceived to exist for the child in "the friends with whom the child associates"(X = 5.31; SD = 2.86), attributing an implicit negative effect to these relationships. This factor is possibly linked to those mentioned above: "engages in inappropriate behavior" and "has sexual relations very early", and assuming that the child is a teenager. Regarding the wider social context and the perception that "society negatively views the fact that the mother leaves her child in the care of other persons"(X = 5.31; SD = 2.86), although this is not one of the most outstanding factors, it was selected by a high percentage of informants (77.14 %). Regarding social protection factors, relationships that may have a positive influence on the child are considered significant, such as "participation in sports activities"(X = 4.19; SD = 2.69), ranked fifth among the set of factors, and "integration into positive social groups"(X = 5.04; SD = 2.47), whose very high percentage of selection (85.71 %) highlights the value of social relations beyond sports. These are perceived as positive counter–forces to other possibly negative social influences.

Table 4



Society perceives that maternal absence due to migration generates specific risk and protection factors that must be taken into account to identify the effects of migration on children. But as also occurs regarding the consequences of parental separation or divorce, given the broad scope, relative social habituation and benefits of migration, the significance and consequences of migratory separation for the child are not as conditioned by social stigmatization as in other circumstances (Lemos, 1996).

Social perception highlights the fact that the way in which communication evolves between mother and child after her departure is crucial when considering the effects of the geographic separation, confirming the findings of other studies (Bertino, Arnaiz and Pereda, 2006; Carrillo, 2005; Parrenas, 2002, 2005, cited by Yeoh and Lam, 2006). Frequent communication maintains bonds and affection across geographic distance, and through these the mother continues to provide emotional support, orientation, control, and reinforcement. On the other hand, lack of communication may submerge the child in feelings of abandonment and frustration, resulting in maladjustment and conflict.

A certain imbalance can be discerned between individual risk factors and their respective protection factors. Four individual factors obtain mean scores that place them among the ten most highly ranked risk factors, while individual protection factors achieve less important positions in the overall classification. Nevertheless, it would be appropriate to contemplate the perceived individual factors, of both risk and protection, as factors associated with others insofar as it is difficult to establish the chains of interaction of the factors and their link with other family or social circumstances over the course of the years during which the separation lasts (Ezpeleta, 2005). Taken as sets of factors, they may illustrate the behavioral profiles of vulnerable versus resilient children (Javier and Camacho–Gingerich, 2004).

The presence of certain factors raises new questions. For example, as a result of the remittances received, children may have novel technological devices or personal clothing or accessories. If that makes them boastful, this characteristic would be a psychosocial risk factor. But one should also consider the possibility that displaying these trophies to their peers serves to materialize the affections and memory of the mother (Carrillo, 2005), imbuing the mother's behavior with a positive sense and transforming the child's discomfort into pride (Cyrulnick, 2002). On the other hand, watching a lot of television and personal isolation are psychosocial risk factors (Rodrigo et al., 2008) insofar as they limit engagement in other activities and positive relationships. They may, however, have a different meaning according to the area in which the child lives. In some urban and conflictive areas where the street is source of dangers to which the child may be exposed, a certain degree of isolation in the home may be a protective recourse (Ardila and Madarro, 2007). Behaviors related to inappropriate consumption, early sexual relations and early motherhood/ fatherhood, must take into account the age of the child and the Dominican social context in order to assess the degree to which maternal migration significantly increases these behaviors. Certain inappropriate behaviors may be of an exploratory nature, constituting an epiphenomenon of adolescence (Born and Boët, 2004). For some authors, the assessment of inappropriate consumption lacks a sufficient empirical basis because remittances are scarce and irregular and young people themselves feel that they are barely sufficient for their subsistence. Some researchers also believe that early sexual relations and motherhood/fatherhood may be attempts to compensate for affective networks that have been diluted by migration (Carrillo, 2005; Ardila and Madarro, 2007). This shows that the value of a particular factor may change and that it may constitute a risk or protection depending on the subject–context relationships (Born and Boët, 2004).

In any case, the personal characteristics and behaviors identified in this study are drawn from the social perceptions of the informants, and whether they are antecedents or the result of other factors, they should not encourage one to make a premature diagnosis. The results of studies on behavior disorders and maladjustment in children and adolescents indicate that the average correlations between the reports by external observers, professionals, and the children themselves tend to be low because the behaviors may have different meanings according to the situation and the criteria of the evaluators (Farnós de los Santos and Sanmartín, 2005; Lemos, 1996).

The age of the child when migratory separation occurs is an important factor to consider. Studies exist that indicate that the consequences of prolonged separations from their parents in the case of small children are specific and less serious than when they occur at later ages (Canalda and Carbonés, 2005; Javier and Camacho–Gingerich, 2004; Vallejo, Sánchez–Barranco y Sánchez–Barranco, 2004). In the case of the children of emigrant mothers, it is necessary to consider the possibility that substitute caretakers demonstrate a greater willingness to establish affective bonds with small children, who elicit more feelings of protection and affection than older children. On the other hand, age is also related to the duration of the separation. Despite its importance, this factor does not appear in this study. In the line of factors that facilitate social contacts, subjective wellbeing, adaptation, and the ability to overcome adversity, certain personal characteristics are found, such as being extroverted, happiness, and having a sense of humor (Vanistendael, 2004). Others such as responsibility, personal organization, and compliance with norms, which are related to positive school performance, coincide with the self–perception of Ecuadoran immigrants' children (Carrillo, 2005). Findings show that favorable school experiences contribute to mitigating the effects of a stressful home environment (Werner, 1990, cited by Javier and Camacho–Gingerich, 2004). Academic success is not a sufficient indicator of personal adaptation or of the absence of other emotional problems, but given the importance of schooling in child and teenage development, it is a personal protection factor that contributes to a positive academic self–image and emotional wellbeing (Miranda, Jarque and Tárraga, 2005), and facilitates access to socially desirable goals. Positive personal characteristics and school performance are variables that mutually condition each other, with individuals that possess them receiving more positive reinforcement from peers, teachers and family members.

The greatest weight of protection appears to fall on the original family group (seven among the ten most highly assessed factors). Regularity of remittances not only appears to improve the lives of those left behind but also transmits the confidence that the mother is achieving her objectives. The opposite occurs when the mother creates a new family in the destination and has new commitments that generate affective and economic insecurity. In response to the risks of family disintegration, protective factors are perceived to be the assumption of caretaking roles by the father who stays behind (Yeoh and Lam, 2006), and living with siblings when they exist. There are two other important factors that act even before the mother's departure. On the one hand, if the mother–child bond has been positive and secure, the child will be better prepared to face the physical absence and establish new relationships with substitute caretakers (Javier and Camacho–Gingerich, 2004). Moreover, if the mother has given the child the possibility of knowing, understanding, and mentally anticipating the situation derived from her decision to migrate, this preparation will possibly help the child attribute meanings to the migration that do not involve self–blame (Cyrulnick, 2002) and make the process less harmful to the child (Suárez–Orozco and Suárez–Orozco, 2001). A shared belief and value system and participation in shared activities (whether religious, cultural or recreational) improve the family group's ability to cope with the situation (Walsh, 2004).

Family diversity, both in its structure and in the situations in which the children find themselves, does not allow general conclusions to be reached, and instead creates new hypotheses. Following the mother's departure, the child's relationships in the substitute home may be a context of additional risks. Relations between the mother, the guardian, and the child depend on previous relationships, the commitments acquired, and their evolution during the time the situation lasts. When the guardian is a close and trusted family member who maintained a positive relationship with the mother and the child prior to the mother's departure, a positive bond between the child and the substitute caregiver is more feasible than when the caregiver is unknown to the child and does not have a significant relationship with the mother. Affectionate relationships, mutual support, establishment of clear norms, and supervision of activities and friendships are protective factors in all types of families. But the child is now in a new family framework of unstable and confused roles that may complicate the child–caregiver adjustment, the exercise of authority, and behavioral control. It is difficult for the child to positively approach the experience of separation from the mother without the support of the father and other persons who take care of him, such as guardians and teachers. On the other hand, it is not known whether references to risks of mistreatment and sexual abuse are general or indicate an increase of these risks in situations of maternal absence (Avellanosa, 2006).

The extra–familial social network may also have a protective effect if it implies relationships of friendship, mutual support, improved sociability, and shared positive experiences (Born and Boët, 2004). But a reciprocal influence may also exist in the group of peers and friends for engaging in maladjusted behaviors, inappropriate consumption, and unproductive idleness (Muñoz–Rivas and Graña, 2005).

It clearly be seen for whom and under what circumstances the mother's migration proves to be a negative event. The perceptions of those involved: father, guardian, extended family, peers, teachers, and society in general, constitute one of the dimensions to take into account in evaluating the consequences for children who remain in their place of origin. Based on the social perception of qualified informants, this study has detected potential risk and protection factors surrounding the child, whose effects and interaction processes will need to be confirmed in later studies. It is possible that many children are able to overcome the absence of their mother if that is the only adverse circumstance. But if this absence is compounded by other harmful circumstances already being suffered by the child, and is not accompanied by adequate protection factors, the result will be some degree of psychological and social alteration.



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Información sobre el autor

JUAN DE DIOS URIARTE ARCINIEGA es doctor en psicología por la Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea, España. Es profesor del Departamento de Psicología Evolutiva y de la Educación de la misma universidad y tutor de trabajos de investigación y tesis doctorales en universidades de Chile y República Dominicana. Es director del curso de pos grado especialista de universidad "Intervención socioeducativa en contextos desfavorecidos". Entre sus publicaciones más recientes destacan los artículos: "La identidad después de la adolescencia" (2008) y "La resiliencia comunitaria en situaciones catastróficas y de emergencia" (2010), ambos en INFAD: Revista de Psicología/International Journal of Developmental and Educational Psychology; y "Los efectos de la ausencia de la madre emigrante en los hijos que quedan atrás. Una revisión de la literatura reciente", en M. Golías, edit., VICongreso de las Migraciones en España. Libro de abstracts (Universidade da Coruña, 2009).

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