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Fam Process. 2002 Winter;41(4):625-43.

Making up for lost time: the experience of separation and reunification among immigrant families.

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Harvard University, 16 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


In the United States today, one-fifth of the nation's children are growing up in immigrant homes. In the process of migration, families undergo profound transformations that are often complicated by extended periods of separation between loved ones--not only from extended family members, but also from the nuclear family. Though many families are involved in these transnational formulations, there has heretofore been little sense of the prevalence of these forms of family separations, nor of the effects on family relations. Further, such research has generally been conducted with clinical populations using Western theoretical frameworks and perspectives of families, limiting its applicability to immigrant families. The data presented in this article are derived from a bicoastal; interdisciplinary study of 385 early adolescents originating from China, Central America, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Mexico. Findings from this study indicate that fully 85% of the participants had been separated from one or both parents for extended periods. While family separations are common to all country-of-origin groups, there are clear differences between groups in lengths of separations as well as people from whom the youth are separated. Descriptive statistics of country-of-origin prevalence, patterns, and outcomes are presented. Results of analyses of variance indicate that children who were separated from their parents were more likely to report depressive symptoms than children who had not been separated. Further, qualitative data from youth, parent, and teacher perspectives of the experience of separation and reunification provide evidence that the circumstances and contexts of the separations lead to a variety of outcomes. We conclude with a discussion of attenuating and complicating factors family therapists should consider in the assessment and treatment of immigrant families.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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