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Development of social support networks by recent Chinese immigrant women with young children living in London, Ontario.

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May 28, 2008

CERIS Working Paper No. 66

The purpose of this paper is to examine the social support networks of recent professional Chinese immigrant women with young children who have settled in London, Ontario. Two major research questions underlie this research:

  • Where will they go for information and knowledge concerning childrearing when it is needed?
  • Where and to whom will they turn to for help when they encounter difficulties in raising their children in the new country?

Key Findings and Discussion

Two types of social-support networks among Chinese immigrant women were uncovered from the interview data. Religious participation was considered as one of the most important social support
networks noted by respondents in the study. None of the participants reported having any religious affiliation before immigration, but they all reported some level of religious participation after arrival. Significantly, out of the eighteen, five respondents reported they had become members of a Chinese Christian church.

Religious participation as observed in this study helped immigrant women find mutual support concerning childcare. For example, several participated in a self-organized childcare support group among immigrant women in the church. Religious participation also provided emotional comfort and psychological support to some women that helped them to deal with various problems generated in the process of immigration and settlement. The pattern of religious participation resulting from immigration is associated with the barriers and difficulties facing these immigrant women, and the phenomenon of religious participation in a mainline church was positively seen as something that could help immigrants to integrate more easily into mainstream society. But the
unwanted effect is that religious affiliation may sustain traditional patriarchal gender relations in the family.

The study also highlighted the impacts of modern communications technologies on the patterns of immigrant settlement and networking behaviour. Access to the internet to look for the information immigrants need in the process of settlement also was perceived as critical by respondents as one way to meet their needs. This finding shows the instrumental role of the Chinese community in helping its members to settle in the new country. The pattern of using modern technologies, rather than accessing social services, may have policy implications for social-service providers in their attempts to design services that meet the needs of immigrant parents.

Apparently, financial resources and lack of language proficiency are the major factors influencing the ways in which immigrant women seek support. Although seeking childcare assistance from relatives in the home country was the preferred strategy among participants in the sample, their income levels did not allow them to meet immigration policy thresholds needed in order to sponsor their parents’ migration to Canada to help them with their childcare requirements. Their lower level of resources also prevented them from utilizing local childcare services or hiring a private caregiver to care for their children.

Recommendations

Four recommendations can be put forward on the basis of this research:

  1. Childcare is perceived as one of the major barriers for professional immigrant women who expected to pursue their careers after immigration. More affordable childcare spaces, with extended hours, was strongly recommended by the participants in this study.
  2. The phenomenon of religious participation implies that mental health might be an area that should be given more attention by the existing settlement services.
  3. Information about prenatal and postnatal services should be widely circulated among immigrant communities. Outreach social services to first-time immigrant mothers might be necessary.
  4. In order to improve access to the online resources that immigrants require, there is a need for those responsible for government and settlement-related websites to provide links to websites created by ethnoracial or immigrant communities, if available, which will help newcomers to become better connected with their ethnic community, especially if such websites are in their mother tongue.

Summary

The purpose of this paper is to examine the social support networks of recent professional Chinese immigrant women with young children who have settled in London, Ontario.
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