Nanny program forces Filipino families apart

Posted by admin on Aug 17th, 2006

Nanny program forces Filipino families apart. Georgia Straight. Publish Date: August 17, 2006

Albert Lopez hasn’t stopped missing his mom. He was only six when she left the Philippines to work as a caregiver in the desert kingdom of Bahrain. From there, she eventually moved to Canada as a nanny under the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). When she acquired immigrant status, she petitioned to bring the whole family to Canada. When Albert met her again, he was already 12 years old.

It’s a story that was supposed to have a storybook ending””the family makes up for lost time and lives happily ever after””except that this wasn’t the case. “We [had] been separated for too long. It was difficult for us to be close again,”Albert, now 22, told the Georgia Straight.

It didn’t help that although his mother no longer worked as a nanny, she had to juggle low-paying jobs. Because of health problems, his father stopped working a few years after arriving in Canada.

“She leaves the house at 5 a.m. She comes back at 4 p.m. She’s out again by 5 p.m. and comes home at 1 a.m. There is no time for us to build a relationship,” Albert said.

When Albert started to encounter problems in secondary school, there was no one to turn to for support. He later dropped out of high school.

His story isn’t an isolated one.

A study conducted by a UBC professor suggests that families that have been separated and reunited under the LCP discover that their much-anticipated reunion has simply opened up a new chapter of separation.

Geography professor Geraldine Pratt said in an interview that LCP reunification has become a “recipe for disaster”.

“It’s a stressful experience, with members of the family experiencing migration at different stages and with different expectations,” said Pratt, who has done previous studies on the LCP as part of her research on labour migration.

Through family interviews and data from the B.C. Ministry of Education, the study looked at the lives of the children, particularly their educational and occupational success in Canada, because “so many of the hopes of migration are tied to children’s education and future well-being.”

Pratt tracked four groups of children who began secondary school in Grade 8 in the Vancouver region in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998.

She compared those who speak Tagalog””the main Filipino language””at home with a selection of other language groups, namely Punjabi, Chinese, Vietnamese, and English. Although children who have been separated from parents through the LCP cannot be identified in the Education Ministry data, the “best ‘proxy’ that we have to identify Filipino children of the LCP is language spoken at home”.

The results are troubling.

“Analyzing the educational achievements of children in the sample, along with BC Ministry of Education data for children who speak Tagalog at home, we conclude that these children are not faring as well as might be hoped,” the study said.

They tend to have lower grade-point averages, be less likely to be included on the honour roll, and have a relatively low likelihood of graduating from high school. “This is true for both boys and girls,” the study added.

About one-quarter of the girls and one-third of the boys who entered the Vancouver school system in Grade 8 did not graduate from high school, the study noted.

“Certainly, other language groups approximate the Tagalog-speaking children on specific measures. For instance, in some cohorts, those who speak Punjabi at home have equally low FSA [foundational skills assessments] scores and grade point averages.

“The ‘drop out’ rates for those who speak Vietnamese at home are even worse than for Tagalog-speakers. But what is particularly striking is that Tagalog speakers are at the low end for all of the measures,” the study said.

The data used by Pratt covers most school districts in the Lower Mainland, where there is a concentration of Filipino migrants. Included districts were Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, New Westminster, Burnaby, and Coquitlam.

The study also noted that the challenges differ depending on when a child has immigrated. Those who come in their late teens and have been enrolled in a university or college in the Philippines find themselves being sent either back to high school or to adult education learning centres. “This is a discouraging prospect,” the study said. It noted that children arriving in their late teens have an “especially awkward relationship to educational institutions and accreditation in Canada”.

The study cited the case of Melanie (not her real name but one given by Pratt), who was 18 when her mother sponsored her to Canada. At that time, she was studying business management at a university in Manila.

Upon her arrival in Vancouver, Melanie was assessed at Grade 10 level. She required both English and math to finish high school. Her age put her beyond regular high school and she was enrolled at an adult learning centre.

She lost interest and instead got a full-time job at McDonald’s. Her friends are mostly daughters of mothers who have come through the LCP, and, like Melanie, they have not completed high school.

“Of course, you feel sad about this. And then I said, ‘Back to high school again. All this paperwork.’ I just lost interest. What’s the point? I was already working (at McDonalds),” Melanie was quoted in the study.

Pratt’s study, which she conducted in collaboration with the Vancouver-based Philippine Women Centre of B.C. and the Filipino- Canadian Youth Alliance, is due for publication by the end of the year. But it seems to have already struck a sympathetic chord in two trustees of the Vancouver school board who belong on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

COPE school trustee Sharon Gregson told the Straight that the study underscores the need for more funding for the school system in order to provide better support systems for the youth.

“Our provincial government is quite able to fund the [2010] Olympics and its overruns, so why shouldn’t it be able to fund the schools?” Gregson asked.

Don Lee, NPA school trustee and a former secondary-school teacher, said that the socioeconomic status of families is an important factor that can influence the performance of a child in school.

“If the mother or both parents work long hours in low-paying jobs, they are already tired when they come home and they can’t spend time with their kids,” Lee told the Straight.

Gregson and Lee agreed on one of the study’s recommendations, which is the need for the school system to hire more multicultural workers. At present there is only one multicultural worker dedicated to overseeing Filipino youths in secondary school.

More than 90 percent of Canada’s domestic caregivers come from the Philippines. Despite the social costs attributed to the separation of families, there’s no indication that the Philippines is about to stop sending mothers to serve foreign families. There are about 800 caregiver schools in the impoverished country, which has become dependent on the foreign-currency remittances of Filipino overseas workers for its economic survival.

At least eight million Filipinos, about 10 percent of the country’s population, work overseas. In 2005, they sent home more than US$10 billion, according to the Central Bank of the Philippines, accounting for 13.2 percent of the country’s economic growth.

A 2004 Asian Development Bank study estimated that Filipino women compose 65 percent of Philippine migrants, and the figures are rising. They have become “dollar mommies” with few personal ties to their children.

In 2002, Robert Collette, who was then Canada’s ambassador to the country, told Philippine media that Canadians prefer Filipino nannies. “They are making Canadian parents very happy because Filipinos are well-trained, warm, conscious to care and love children,” Collette said.

May Farrales, executive director of the Philippine Women Centre, said that the situation of Filipino youths in the school system should serve as a wake-up call to concerned authorities.

“It’s time for them to come down from their offices and talk with, listen to, and learn from what the community has to say,” Farrales told the Straight.

The study also recommended an end to the family separation built into the structure of the LCP by allowing family immigration from the start. Under the LCP, a caregiver must work a total of 24 months within a period of three years before she can apply for landed-immigrant status, which will allow her to sponsor her family to Canada.

“This circumstance raises a question of global social justice: why is it that certain categories of mothers and children systematically suffer the pain of extended periods of separation? Once the effects on children’s educational and labour market outcomes become clear, one must also ask about the long-term rationality of the LCP from the perspective of Canadian society,” it said.

It has been several years since Albert Lopez dropped out of high school. He has tried his hand at a number of jobs to help his mother earn a living for the family.

He still wishes he had more time with her.

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