Parents' migration - Is it better to leave Romania?

Why did mom leave? - Children's development in the absence of parents

What is migration?

According to the most recent data on the number of Romanians going abroad, in the spring of 2022, approximately 5.7 million Romanians are settled abroad (Department of Romanians everywhere). These estimates are based on the aggregate data provided by the states of residence, currently there is no unitary mechanism for measuring the number of Romanian emigrants. Given the fact that the total number of Romanians resident in the country is below 19 million in 2022 (According to the data of the General Population Census of Romania, from 2022 – provisional data), the large share of those who leave the country (20%) indicates that the phenomenon of migration is one with profound effects on the demographic structure, on macroeconomic development, as well as on society as a whole.

What is migration?

From a demographic point of view, migration is defined as a movement of one or more individuals resulting in a long-term or permanent change of place of residence. Theorists believe that the move must be a considerable distance and result in the person(s) living in the destination for a relatively long period of time.
Migration is usually defined as movement across a clear political boundary, such as a county or country border. Migration within a country is called internal migration, and migration that crosses a national border is called emigration or emigration (UN- Migration- ).

What is intra-community migration?

According to the Glossary of European Terms, intra-EU free movement / mobility is possible through two different schemes. The first scheme is open and applicable to EU citizens who enjoy full freedom of movement. The second system concerns migrant workers. The rules applicable to migrants are less generous and are limited to specific categories of third-country nationals, namely long-term residents, highly skilled workers, researchers and students. Through separate agreements between the European Union and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, the same free movement rights apply to their citizens and territories ( ).

The study of migration

The studies dedicated to migration have developed in line with the evolution of international relations theories, evolving from the assimilationist theories associated especially with Robert Park and the Chicago School (Horvath&Anghel, 2009, pp.13-41), to the transnational model increasingly frequented in present, a model that emphasizes the possibility that the break with the society of origin is not a total one. This situation is favored by the transformations in transport and communications, which through increased speed and ever-lowering costs make any distance accessible and any communication possible (Castles et al, 2003).
“Here” and “there” are no longer separate dimensions, they are not spaces and cultural contexts linked only by annual trips and regular remittances, but also by permanent communication and frequent visits they become two sides of the same coin, creating a typical individual, the transnational ( the one that commutes between two or more countries).
A special area in the discussion of migration in Central and Eastern Europe is occupied by policies initiated by states to encourage return, especially in countries where migration has left deep traces in the economy or society (eg. children left behind- the left behind children) (Vanore et al., 2015). The states of Central and Eastern Europe made fragile and uncoordinated approaches with the destination states, which led to an obvious failure (information platforms for those wishing to return little accessed, information offices rarely visited, first modest resettlement , etc.).
So, migration within the European Union is a hot topic that deserves to be explored in more depth, which we will do in the following entries.

Parents' migration - Is it better to leave Romania?

According to the National Authority for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Children and Adoptions, 75,136 children had parents who went to work abroad in December 2020, of which 13,253 children with both parents gone and 9,409 children with the sole supporting parent gone. (date Save the Children)

The questions asked in this podcast are:
1. Why do some parents choose to embark on a migration process without children?
2. What are the challenges parents face?
3. What solutions are offered at the institutional level?

The economic situation in Romania, in other Central and Eastern European states, as well as in other countries outside the EU, forces adults to make decisions about where they can access higher incomes. Thus, better wages in Western states attract labor from less developed states. Individuals choose to migrate to those places where they can be productive and earn higher wages commensurate with their skills. However, the decision to leave also involves certain costs or investments: transport costs, maintenance costs until finding a job and receiving the first salary, the difficulty of learning a new language and adapting to a new culture, the challenges involved in adapting to a labor market different from the well-known one, as well as or especially the psychological pressure of breaking away from society/family/friends. In some situations, migration also involves separation from the child in care. This happens in migration stories where there is no security of a job, the migrant does not rely on a network of relatives or acquaintances in the country of destination and consequently feels that leaving with children is unsafe. The decision to leave the child or children in the care of the other parent or grandparents or other relatives is a difficult one, but especially one with major implications for the children.

We will discuss the challenges parents face. On the one hand, it is about the feeling of separation, which is difficult to accept and integrate in an already uncertain process (searching for a job, a new language and a new society). The parents are in the situation of counterbalancing the guilt they feel with a well-constructed and accepted argumentation: I left because this is the only way I can offer my child a better life… When I have more stability, my child will follow me…. .My child is well cared for by those he stayed at home with.
Another challenge is to maintain good communication with the child/children left at home. Fortunately, today more than ever, there are numerous channels through which child and parent can stay connected. They can communicate through free messages, but also meet frequently online through video calls (this being one of the benefits of the democratization of Internet access). So communication, especially with older children, can be done easily. The question is how consistent is this communication and whether it is sufficient. The parent chooses, income permitting, to return home frequently to meet with the child and remain an active part of the child’s life.
A third problem that arises is the period over which this separation extends. The longer the period increases, the less the chances that the bond between parents and children will remain natural. Unfortunately, economic migration is based on the idea of accumulation, therefore, if the migrant does not clearly set a deadline or a certain amount that he wants to accumulate, then there is a risk that the migration period will extend indefinitely.
Another fundamental element that parents should consider is constant involvement in the growth and education of children, even from a distance, through interactions that lead to better emotional connection, but also give the parent some control over the trajectory the child.

Next, we will talk about the institutional support that parents receive in their country of origin (especially in Romania). Social services fulfill their formal role of monitoring how children are cared for in the absence of the parent(s) and the school informs parents of the child’s school situation and behavior at school. The institutional framework is a weak one that can undergo major improvements.

Some recommendations would be:
1. A European support framework for parents and children left at home (through psychological support programs, but also through the granting of European social aid)
2. The creation of support spaces, as well as telephone lines, to serve parents for questions and advice
3. Development of mechanisms in schools through which students who are in such situations can receive individual counseling.
4. Support given to the family – information and counseling – to manage the relationship with the child left at home.

In the next podcast: Why Did Mom Leave? We will discuss how children perceive and explain their parents’ departure.

Why did mom leave? - Children's development in the absence of parents

Why did mom have to go? Dumped me? I am guilty? When will he return?
All these are questions that repeatedly appear in the minds of children and teenagers whose parents go abroad.

Sociological and socio-demographic studies in China, the country with the most important internal migration, highlight several aspects related to the effect that parental migration has on children and adolescents. In China, massive rural-urban migration has pushed the number of children left behind to 61 million, accounting for 38% of children in rural China. In Europe, the phenomenon is not so massive, but it is still a trend with wide coverage in Central and Eastern European countries

Despite the initial aim of improving the quality of life for children, parental migration leads to challenges in terms of the child’s psychosocial well-being due to the emotional impact that prolonged separation can have on children. The absence of parents can create an unfavorable context in which children receive inadequate care and support for their psychosocial needs. The negative effects of parental migration can also be exacerbated by other vulnerabilities, such as parental divorce, poverty and caregiver fragility. Concerns about the well-being of children may lead some migrants to return home permanently to end a situation that is proving to create more problems than good.

Non-traditional family structures (in which one of the parents is abroad) can create premises for future psychopathologies in children but also cause the increase of economic and social risks for some of these children.

Long-term parental migration is associated with:
● predisposition to loneliness – children with parents who have gone abroad have a tendency to become solitary, to avoid relationships with colleagues or other family members, as an effect of the feeling of guilt they experience
● low satisfaction with various aspects of life, perhaps even depression – the absence of parents creates a significant void in children’s lives, leading to chronic dissatisfaction, associated with depression
● low self-esteem and behavior problems – self-respect is in decline, in the absence of parental appreciation and affection, often manifesting itself through difficult interactions with those around, leading to addiction or delinquency problems.
● Risk of mental health problems – this risk is not one with an increased incidence, but it is derived from all the other problems stated previously

Prolonged physical presence and high quality care, with commensurate emotional involvement, are fundamental pillars in maintaining attachment relationships. Attachment bonds are obviously disrupted during long periods of parental absence, who try to compensate for the physical absence with financial benefits during the separation. Studies carried out in communities with a large number of migrants from Romania or Bulgaria, have shown that children’s feelings of discomfort, inability to communicate and ambivalence regarding relations with the departed parent are common for most of the children left at home.

In Romania, Save the Children is the organization with the most significant impact on the development of children whose parents are abroad. Where state intervention is not articulated, national organizations can step in and provide services that can make a difference to a number of beneficiaries
Direct intervention services for children and families are provided in 17 local centers and consist of:
● Additional school preparation for children;
● Social, psychological and legal services for children and parents;
● Socialization activities and free time for children, facilitating communication with parents abroad.
These are not really structural solutions, but sometimes direct interventions are what point the way to institutional approaches. It is society’s duty that these children feel as well cared for and protected as possible.

The way back home

What does returning home mean for migrants who have been away from the country for a long time and what is the impact on children’s development?
Not many of the Romanians who went abroad decide to return to the country. Romania is still, 15 years after joining the EU, a country from which to leave, not very attractive for people looking for a place with better living conditions.

There was a moment in early 2020, with the outbreak of the pandemic, when it appeared that Romanians (due to circumstances) were beginning to return. Officials reported that more than one million Romanians returned in the first three months after the outbreak of the pandemic (these data were not later confirmed by statistical research.) However, the queues made by Romanians at customs, on the way to enter the country, showed that, although the figures were most likely exaggerated, the phenomenon of return existed.

Most of those who returned were working in countries such as: Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, hospitality, construction, food processing and aged care. Thus, the tendency to return to a crisis situation of those who do not have secure jobs and a safety net created by social and health insurance is clear. Why did the Romanians return in a hurry and without analyzing the implications too much? The reasons identified were:
1. Anxiety and fear for their lives
2. The role of the family in decision-making
3. Social and economic insecurity-
4. Lack of prospects in Romania vs. Business opportunities in Romania
Anxiety and fear for their lives is the main topic that was addressed by the returnees. As anxiety was the general state of all people, communication between those who left and those who remained at home intensified, those who remained at home recalling those who left, because of course they considered that the given situation can be addressed better at home and together.

Most Romanians who decided to return faced economic and social insecurity in the countries where they lived, lost their jobs, had access to limited social security services and had no clear career prospects. These situations reveal a well-known reality, that of fragile jobs and the social status of Romanians abroad. Most of the Romanian migrants who returned during the pandemic fall into the category of people who are not protected by social security measures in the host country.

If before the pandemic, Romanians tended not to see professional prospects in Romania, forced by circumstances, they looked more carefully at the labor and business market in Romania, establishing certain professional goals.

Impact of return on children:
1. If the return is permanent, it contributes to the development of the children and the reintegration of the parent into the ecosystem of the personal and social life of the spouse. Although the period in which this reintegration is achieved may vary, the result is the same. The parents are present, they take part in the psycho-social dynamics of the children, they become part of the picture of everyday existence again.
2. If the return is short-lived, the period of return allows the initial reconnection of children and parents, but the subsequent departure is perceived by the children as a new abandonment, so the experience is likely to be rather traumatic.

As we do not know how many Romanians have returned since the beginning of the pandemic, we also do not know how many of them have remained in Romania, so the quantitative impact on the children whose parents have returned (temporarily or permanently) cannot be estimated either. Studies in this sense are necessary to understand how a harmonious reintegration of departed parents into the children’s lives can be done.

This podcast is part of the series Migration and its impact on children. The podcasts are recorded within the No left behind children- an action plan for parental education of migrant parents project, co-financed by Erasmus+.