The role transnational family support & youth mentoring has on unaccompanied immigrant youths in Spain

Alarcón, X., & Prieto-Flores, Ò. (2021). Transnational family ties and networks of support for unaccompanied immigrant youths in Spain: The role of youth mentoring in Barcelona. Children and Youth Services Review, 128, 106140.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin.

Notes of Interest:

  • There has been a significant increase of unaccompanied migrant youth arriving in Spain in recent years.
  • While there is growing literature that examines the collective policies, legal protection, and system for ascertaining the age of unaccompanied minors, not many studies assess the specific needs of these youth as they transition to adulthood.
  • This study a) explores the experiences of unaccompanied minors concerning their family and social support networks and b) how mentoring programs can complement the support youth are receiving from their families.
  • Many unaccompanied youths receive esteem and emotional support from their families throughout their resettlement and transition to adulthood (primarily through internet-based communication).
  • Some of the support youth receive from family members are so unique, that certain topics and issues are best suited to be discussed among themselves.
  • It’s also important for unaccompanied youth to receive non-familial support since it can help them a) build a new support network in their new environment and b) have space to reflect on their life without the influence of family expectations.
  • Youth workers can provide instrumental support by assisting youth with courses and job opportunities.
  • Mentoring provides mentees an opportunity to expand their support networks in a way that can complement the support that they’re receiving from family members, as well as promote their independence.
  • Future mentoring studies need to assess how the absence of transnational family connections affects the development of mentorships with unaccompanied minors.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

The growing number of unaccompanied immigrant youths arriving through Mediterranean routes from North and West African countries to Spain is challenging established political and social interventions. Their transition to adulthood and resettlement is made more difficult by the physical and geographical distance with their parents and the availability of networks of support in the host country. This qualitative study examines the transnational family support that unaccompanied youths receive, and the complementary support received from formal mentors in the new context. A focus group was conducted to explore the needs at this stage of life and to construct the interview guidelines. Our findings from twenty semi-structured interviews with mentored and non-mentored youth in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area during 2019 shows how the formal support provided by institutional agents is insufficient to fulfil their emotional needs. We conclude that the virtual presence of family caregivers and the different kinds of support received by adult mentors encourages them in overcoming challenges regarding their well-being.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

In this article we focused first on highlighting the social support provided by the family abroad and then on the social support provided by the social agents present in the new context. However, the academic literature that has examined the resettlement of unaccompanied youths has focused more on highlighting the networks of support that are built in the destination country. This is why we consider the findings of this article relevant, since they allow us to have a more holistic vision of the whole network of support that exists around them.

The family, essentially the fathers and mothers, are a source of emotional and esteem support that clearly predominates in this period of transition to adult life, having an impact on the resettlement process as well. We can see how the family gives motivating messages in the face of existing obstacles, acknowledges the young person’s efforts to overcome daily difficulties, and constantly worries about their well-being. In fact, the close relationship and trust between parents and children is so unique that certain problems are only discussed with them. However, as we have already highlighted, there are certain issues for which the young people prefer to seek support from other adults. This drives the young people to have to build a support network in the new environment, which facilitates their social, cultural and linguistic integration, and also helps them to find spaces in which to converse and reflect upon their own migratory process, independently of their families’ expectations. Therefore, relationships are established with mentors that end up also being very significant for them, thus avoiding a permanent attachment to their parents, which could be detrimental to their transition to adult life and their integration in the new country (Omland and Andenas, 2017). This is something that can happen to the non-mentored youths in this study that have no mentors that counteract this lack of social support to count on.

Mentored young people build a network of support in which the different agents are involved in their lives providing complementary forms of support, all of which pursue a common final objective: the full independence of the young person. We would first highlight the presence of the family, but this is followed closely by the mentors and youth workers. Maintaining family ties not only has a positive impact on the emotional management of the young people but can also strengthen the bonds that are built with new significant adults in the new country, since the messages of the parents can promote this connection. The mentors become a source of social support that can acquire both tangible and intangible forms. On the one hand, the mentees speak with their mentors about their emotional distress and receive messages of calm and understanding; and on the other hand, there are also spaces of more instrumental assistance, such as the fact of practising Spanish or receiving advice about how to continue their educational path, providing a more informal support that complements the formal support of the youth workers and professionals of the entities that accompany them.

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