Best interests of the immigrant, refugee, ‘culturally diverse’ child

The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of the Child has released its discussion paper, Best Interests of the Child: Meaning and Application in Canada. The paper was prepared for the conference, held February 2009 and includes content gleaned from conference sessions. Each section contains an introduction to a particular issue, a discussion of the issue, suggestions for action and/or further research.

Three sections will be of particular interest to immigrantchildren.ca readers: Children in the Refugee and Immigration System; Early Childhood Learning and Care; and Children and Cultural Diversity. This post highlights only some of the issues and suggested actions. For a complete review, consult the full paper on the CRC website.

Children and Cultural Diversity

Discussion of Issues ~ “In Canada, immigrants often want to preserve the culture they brought with them, even though it may be changing in the country of origin to reflect more modern conceptions of children’s rights (frozen culture). Children often get caught between a parent’s desire to preserve their past and young people’s desire to be accepted in the new country. In some ways, Canada’s multiculturalism policy has fostered the continuation of “frozen cultures”.

Suggestions for Action ~ “Top priority was given to community-based approaches to education about the rights of children, as well as school-based education. Community programming can create safe spaces for dialogue between young people, parents, and community leaders on these matters”.

Children in the Refugee and Immigration System

Discussion of Issues ~ “Canada lacks a clear policy framework to protect the best interests of children who are unaccompanied asylum seekers, in spite of recommendations for this from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2003 and in the 2007 Senate Report on children’s rights …Trafficking of children is a growing concern; it is important to consider differences between children and adults and include the BIC in the development of strategies to prevent trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and provide services to victims”.

Suggestions for Action ~ “Make the BIC and the Convention part of Canadian law to protect the rights of children in all policies and programmes for refugees and immigrants…Give special attention to children in the development of strategies to prevent trafficking, and consider the BIC in provision of services to victims and prosecution of traffickers”.

Early Childhood Learning and Care

Discussion of Issues ~ “Social science research has documented that supporting families with affordable, high quality options for early child learning and care has benefits for child development and for the social and economic well-being of communities. Yet Canada does not have a national policy framework for early childhood education and well-being; provincial policies vary widely, resulting in equity for children across Canada; and funding for services in support of early child development is inadequate”.

Suggestions for Action ~ “National leadership is needed to develop a deeper understanding and vision for child development and the purpose of education in Canada, based on giving priority to the BIC. This would include greater awareness of how children learn to belong and contribute to the community, developing early notions of what it means to be citizens in Canada”.

Related resources:

Ottawa’s child settlement program

The Ottawa Social Planning Council released “Immigrants’ Economic Integration: Successes and Challenges” last week. The report examines the social and economic integration of newcomers to Ottawa and includes discussion of the settlement needs of children. From an article in today’s Ottawa Citizen:

A young person who moves here from another country faces a whole spectrum of things on top of the usual trials of growing up, says Hamdi Mohamed, executive director of the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO).

“They live in a community that is really struggling, in a family that is struggling, where the father, the mother, the other siblings are all going through their own settlement experiences,” says Mohamed. “On top of that, the father may have three jobs, the mother may be working as well, so the problems are there, but the role models are not available.”

Mohamed says immigrant children struggle in particular with multiple identities. They are new Canadians who often have strong ties to their homeland, something the Canadian-born may tell them is disloyal….

“The reality of these children is they’re told ‘You must fit in this box or you don’t belong.’ And yet they know they have multiple identities, but they don’t yet know that there are beautiful things about that,” says Mohamed.

In response, OCISO has launched a program that may be piloted in schools and other community locations to assist immigrant children and youth with issues in integration and also in maintaining home language, culture and practices. Other ISOs in the Ottawa area are on board. Read the full article here.

Related resource: See OSPCs 2007 paper “Is Everybody Here? Inclusion and Exclusion Ottawa of Families with Young Children in the Ottawa Area”.

Child migrant workers, in their own words

The Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty (Migration DRC) examines the lived experiences of children who migrate to countries to seek work – from their perspective. The report finds a “significant gap between how children see their own experiences of migration and the way that child migrants are often represented”. See Voices of Child Migrants: A Better Understanding of How Life Is.

Related resource: The Migration DRC Child Migration Research Network, a site with research and resources on child migration, unaccompanied children and child refugee issues.

Young Canadian Muslim women

Status of Women Canada have funded the Canadian Council of Muslim Women to direct a project to assist the integration and inclusion of young Muslim women and girls.

From the April 2/09 news announcement:

Status of Women Canada will provide $314,000 for a project called “Being a Canadian Muslim Woman in the 21st Century.” It will focus on equipping young Muslim women to lead and participate in a number of workshops with their educators and non-Muslim and male peers to discuss discrimination, violence and human rights.

The Council will be working in partnership with two other organizations – the Afghan Women’s Organization of Toronto and YOUCAN.

A description of the project from the Status of Women website:

This project will involve seven schools from across Ontario located in Toronto, London, Peel and Waterloo. Muslim girls and their classmates will develop leadership skills as well as knowledge of their rights regarding gender equality, racial equality and how to eliminate violence in their lives. Muslim girls, with the assistance of their educators, non-Muslim and male peers, will form a Steering Committee in each school. These Committees will lead a series of workshops addressing discrimination, violence and human rights. A Steering Committee Coordinator will organize each school to contribute to the formation of a tool for educators. This tool will provide a basis for reacting sensitively and knowledgably to the issues facing young Muslim women in the 21st century.

Meet Rebecca: A Russian-Jewish immigrant doll

The American Girl series of historical fiction for young adults has been a big success in the US. A similar series runs in Canada, and includes a story about the home children: Orphan at My Door: The Home Child Diary of Victoria Cope, written by Jean Little. The Canadian series is called Our Canadian Girl.

The American Girl series also has accompanying dolls. Launching this weekend, to great anticipation, will be Rebecca, the Russian-Jewish immigrant doll to go along with Jacqueline Dembar Greene’s Meet Rebecca.

According to the May 23rd edition of the Sunday New York Times, a great deal of research went into what a Russian-Jewish immigrant doll should look like, with early comments favourable (Previous American Girl dolls stirred up controversies).

Mothering and migration: (Trans)nationalism, globalization & displacement

Call for papers for a conference from the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM), as posted on the mnchp-l listserv: Mothering and Migration: (Trans)nationalisms, Globalization, and Displacment. The conference will be held February 18-20, 2010 at the University of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico.

Submissions are welcome from scholars, students, activists, government agencies and workers, artists, mothers, and others who work or research in the area. Cross-cultural, historical and comparative work is encouraged. Topics can include (but not limited to):

Representations/images of mothers and migration and (trans)national issues; globalization of motherhood; empowering migrant mothers; reproduction and movement of mother workers; migrant and (trans)national mothers and capitalism; migrant and (trans)national mothers and activism; public policy issues.

For more information, contact the ARM at arm@yorku.ca or 416.736.2100 ext 60366. Or visit the ARM website. Abstract and bio deadline is Sept 1/09.

“They don’t like us”

Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Vol. 10, No. 1 includes the article “They Don’t Like Us”: Reflections of Turkish Children in a German Preschool, by Fikriye Kurban and Joseph Tobin, Arizona State University. From the abstract:

In this article, the authors present multiple interpretations of a transcript of a discussion with a group of Turkish-German girls in a kindergarten in Berlin, Germany. These five-year-old girls make statements suggesting they experience alienation from their non-Turkish classmates and teachers, and the wider German society. The authors argue that the meanings of these statements should not be taken at face value. Instead, they employ interpretive strategies borrowed mostly from Mikhail Bakhtin and interpretive frameworks taken from Judith Butler, and post-colonial theory and Critical Race Theory to suggest that the girls’ utterances can be usefully seen as having a performative dimension and as expressing tensions around immigration that can be found in the larger society.

Bernard van Leer annotated bibliography on social inclusion and diversity in early childhood

The Bernard van Leer Foundation‘s annotated bibliography of resources and publications in social inclusion and diversity is called “Valuing the Learning“.

The resource is organized in three main sections.

Section A: Theories, concepts and ways of viewing concerns with resources that mostly focus on theory and key concepts and include the following overlapping sections:

Diversity, belonging and positive identity, such as inclusion and access, linguistic diversity, relationships, place identity, self-image.

Children as citizens, child participation, the visibility of children, spaces for children.

Early Childhood Education and Care as democratic process and the relationship between ECEC and social inclusion, social capital and well-being.

Section B: Working with children, parents, early childhood practitioners and trainers includes the following:

Engaging, involving and listening to children.

Engaging, involving and listening to parents.

Changing attitudes, behaviours and structures and advocacy strategies. 

Innovative training and professional development.

Creating spaces to belong.

Part C: Information exchange and dissemination of information, including:

Networking.

Communicating, through shared knowledge, conferences, publications, translations.

Researching and documentation.

Source: Kernan, M. 2008. Valuing the learning: An annotated bibliography of the resources and publications of the Bernard van Leer Foundation and its partners in the area of Social Inclusion and Respect for Diversity (2002-2008). Online Outreach Paper 6. The Hague, The Netherlands: Bernard van Leer Foundation.

Early childhood education and racial and ethnic divisions conference, Belgium

The Joint Learning Initiative on Children and Ethnic Diversity presents Early Childhood Education in Contexts of Racial and Ethnic Divisions Conference, April 29/09 at Ghent University, Belgium.

“The conference will consist of three to four round table discussions with the experts on common strands about delivering programs of early childhood education in contexts of ethnic division. The experts will meet two days prior to the conference to discuss these strands and will continue their discussion with the audience. Consequently, there will be no programm with distinct individual key-note speeches. Rather, participants will be able to follow in-depth discussions and participate in them”.

Some of the invited experts include representatives from Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, Hebrew University, UNICEF/OSI/REF, University of Melbourne and the Bernard van Leer Foundation.

Diversity and children in Ireland

The Bernard van Leer Foundation has released a working paper (another in its series on child development). Developing Programmes to Promote Ethnic Diversity in Early Childhood reviews case studies from Northern Ireland for promising practices in promoting ethnic diversity in early childhood. 

The paper examines the effects of ethnic divisions on young children and explores some of the responses of the early childhood sector and concludes with challenges and suggestions on the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and Ethnic Diversity, co-founded by Paul Connolly, one of the authors of this working paper.

Children of a new world, by Paula S. Fass

Excerpts from: Nihal Ahioglu. Review of Fass, Paula S. Children of a new world: Society, culture and globalization. H-Childhood, N-Net Reviews. April 2009. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial Works).

Children of a New World is an impressive book consisting of essays that the author has previously published on children in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America. Two underlying themes connect these essays. The first suggest that childhood has become a significant working area in social history. Though these essays are profoundly informed by social history and carry a deep concern about large-scale shifts in the experience of children, Paula S. Fass also provides sharp pieces of cultural analysis. She relates her evidence to political history, and to other disciplines, such as literature, education and psychology. 

From the interpretation of children and childhood using a broadly conceived historical approach, Fass reveals her second main theme: the influence of a “new world” or “globalization” on children and the meanings of childhood.

In the first part of the book, Fass emphasizes historical change regarding children and the meanings of childhood in terms of schooling and migration in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. Schooling was critical in a pluralistic society accommodating a great number of immigrants. Integrating different cultures into the same values and thus the idea of establishing “a mutual national identity” become one of the most important aims in these years. In spite of the existence of such a political objective, to protect and maintain their own cultures, immigrants preferred alternative or religious schools for their children. Nevertheless, changing economical conditions and the rise of specialized clerks increased the significance of public schooling. In this context, intelligence tests were invented to predict what an individual could accomplish with education or training. Testing served as a tool for solving social and cultural problems by sorting children and (purportedly) allowing the educational and child welfare systems to meet the psychological needs of individuals. According to Fass, it caused a kind of segregation in education to the disadvantage of immigrant youths because the tests were culturally biased. Complementing the intelligence testing movement in the interwar period, American educators attempted to develop a comprehensive and uniform curriculum. The new curriculum included “extracurricular activities”, through which students found opportunities to prove their self-direction in social, citizenship, athletic and academic subjects. This was aimed to improve the citizenship and advance assimilation of diverse cultural groups. But the results were not always so straightforward….

The last two centuries have been a period in which significant changes have occurred in childhood. Children of a New World presents this change strikingly to readers by using different social, cultural, and economic incidents, events, and experiences. In addition to presenting different examples about the social history of children and the cultural history of childhood in a systematic and analytical way, this book encourages us to ask new questions about how these distinctive stories fit into a larger modern transformation of childhood.