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Parental support for migrant families


Civil society in Sweden partnered with young migrants to support their parenthood.

Abdibashir Hirsiguled


“Enough is enough. Our children aren’t spending their leisure time in a good way. They hang about outside the underground and they’re out late in the evenings. We need help in order to measure up as good parents.”

A few years ago parents in Järva, a suburb outside Stockholm with a high immigrant population, asked for more support in their role as parents. This became the starting point of a big parental support project, promoted by the non-formal adult education organisation, Studiefrämjandet (the Swedish Study Promotion Association), in collaboration with non-profit-making associations.

Moving to Sweden from a country with a different culture and different traditions puts a big strain on family life. Parents can begin to feel lost and uncertain in their parental role. There is increased anxiety about how to bring up children properly. Daily family life can be fraught with friction and conflicts. And the rules and models of the new country may seem alien and elusive.

Desperation often hits hard in economically deprived areas. In suburbs where people from different countries try to deal with unemployment and cultural inequalities. Trying to build a good life.

The role of parents

But nowadays being a parent is a challenge for all groups of society. The networks of large families, relations and friends that once existed have all gone. People move, the geographical distances are huge and the parents’ efforts to deal with the stress of everyday life often makes it difficult to cope with their children properly in their everyday lives.

For this reason the government in Sweden has since 2009 been focussing on a broad range of initiatives aimed at developing forms of support for parents while their children are growing up. A range of trial projects, linked to research findings, are now being rolled out in a large number of local authorities all over the country. Supporting the role of parents through courses where parents are given an opportunity to discuss family relationships and child-rearing methods is an important part of the initiative. Referring to the findings of research from other countries, such as the USA and England, parental support is seen as a social component promoting public health. Good relations within the family are an important defence against external circumstances which may involve the risk of making mistakes in life. In this initiative migrant families are seen as one of many important target groups.

Adult education is developing methods

With this in mind, the Swedish state-funded adult education system has been asked to reach out to immigrant communities with cultural activities and study circles. But adult education does not work from the top downwards. Instead it is based on the participants’ own wishes and experience. Adult education supports people’s development and regeneration on their own terms.

Studiefrämjandet, which is one of Sweden’s largest study associations, has been running various forms of adult education in the Tensta, Rinkeby, Husby and Akalla suburbs in the Järvafältet area north of Stockholm for many years. There are large numbers of immigrants in these areas and there is a range of different active immigrant associations. Studiefrämjandet’s activities have been developed over the years in collaboration with the ethnic associations in the area. And adapted to their requirements.

One of the requirements in recent years has been to establish discussion groups for parents about being a parent. Some of the ideas came from Somali parents, who belong to one of the largest immigrant groups in Järvafältet.

Pilot project

So the “Coordinated parental support in Järva” project was started up in January 2012, a pilot project aimed at disseminating methods and attitudes on parental issues based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In this project Studiefrämjandet is working alongside other organisations, such as the Red Cross and Rädda Barnen (Save the Children Sweden).

“Parents need a lot of support and all children must have the right to the future their parents hope for”, says Sonja Sherefay, who is the project leader, together with Abdibashir Hirsiguled.

Over the course of the project they have trained circle leaders, run study circles about children and parenthood and organised seminars on important subjects that affect parents in their everyday lives. Both the project leaders have strong language skills and a good network of contacts. These are essential requirements for successful adult education in the area. Up to now they have managed to reach out to around 2000 parents of about 3000 children. And perhaps the most important of all – a large number of the participants have been dads.

Freedom of content

“In accordance with the study circles’ ethos, all the activities are free and voluntary for the parents,” says Abdibashir Hirsiguled.”We have also normally given the study circles considerable freedom. Even our study material is in a free format. We make suggestions for topics for five meetings, with directions about the subjects that ought to be looked at –such as childrearing, corporal punishment and laws in Sweden. Otherwise the participants can decide a great deal themselves.”

“During the leader training we stress that the role of the study circle leader is to get everyone in the group chatting, but also to ask questions that no one else dares to ask”, says Sonja Sherefay, who also worked as a lecturer during the project.
“Sometimes it was important to have lectures just for women in order to get a good discussion. Then we can talk about everything under the sun, even about things that are taboo for many, such as sex education in schools and teaching on living together.”

Dads are coming

Several seminars have been aimed directly at fathers. For example these have dealt with the fathers’ responsibility for boys’ attitudes to equality, masculine role models, honour-related violence and traditions.

“We have had long and serious discussions during the seminars”, says Abdibashir Hirsiguled. “The seminars are important meeting places and we challenge all participants to go out and talk to other people in society in order to gain more knowledge about important social issues. Like ripples on the water”.
“I think the reason we have been so successful is due to our having gained the trust of the residents of the area. We have reached out to a large number of people who have been given the opportunity to discuss important issues about children and being a parent”.

That may be important for the future.

This article was produced in cooperation with InfoNet adult education network.

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