Study: parents working abroad is a two-bladed sword
Free movement of workers and the wish to improve their family’s financial well‑being makes many people living in Estonia look for a job abroad. A study by the UT Centre for Applied Social Sciences (CASS) reveals that despite the better standard of living, the child who is left behind in Estonia may feel left alone and end up in a bad company, which in the worst cases may lead to poor achievement at school and the violation law.
The free movement of workers in the European Union brings along new social challenges. One is to do with families where both parents (or one parent of a single-parent family) work abroad while the children live in Estonia. “The topic is increasingly important, as there are more and more of such families. Several studies have shown that the family model affects what the children will grow up to be and how they will treat their own children in the future,” said the Director of UT CASS Kerly Espenberg, one of the implementers of the study “Families with parents working abroad and children living in Estonia: best practices and potential threats”.
Espenberg emphasised that such a family model can lead to various problems: “The main problems from the child’s point of view are the feeling of having been left alone and longing for his/her parents. The fact that parents are far away and thus cannot keep an eye on the child may increase absenteeism and by that affect the child’s achievement at school. In addition, it may cause or worsen health, behavioural and addiction problems.”
On the positive side, parents’ being away may increase the child’s independence and sense of responsibility. Parents’ working abroad and the children’s living in the home country is also associated with the children’s wider worldview – this thanks to the opportunities to travel.
The Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs that commissioned the study has also referred to the importance of this topic in its “Development plan for children and families 2012–2020”, which emphasises that the problem of parents working abroad for a longer period and leaving their children in Estonia without supervision is an increasing problem. This is why it is crucial to raise parents’ awareness and prepare guidelines for families, social workers, teachers and other members of the network.
According to the authors of the study, one of the biggest impediments to solving the problem is the fact that as the parents do not have to inform any authority of their going abroad, there is no overview of how many such families there are in Estonia. Often the parents do not even inform the school or kindergarten of such a way of living. Espenberg explained that informing would in fact be first and foremost in the interests of the parent and the child. “If the school or kindergarten knows that the child’s both parents are working abroad, it can draw attention to the child’s difficulties earlier. This way it may be possible to anticipate problems accumulating so much that the family cannot cope with them.”
The study revealed that parents and the people taking care of the children while the parents are away often fail to foresee the difficulties such a change in the way of living may bring. “These problems are to do with practical issues,” explained Espenberg: for instance, a person without the rights of custody cannot take sick leave if the child falls ill nor has the right to decide whether the child could go on a class trip.
The study was commissioned by the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs and conducted by the Centre for Applied Social Sciences of the University of Tartu.
Additional information: Kerly Espenberg, Director of the Centre for Applied Social Sciences of the University of Tartu, tel: +372 5330 7476, email: kerly.espenberg [ät] ut.ee.