Home Environment and Parenting of Immigrant Children in the United States
Growing diversity in the U.S. demands a greater understanding of home environments of immigrant children. Existing theory and prior studies suggests that ecological context and family’s cultural background may affect parenting. Immigrant children are more likely to grow up in poor families, have limited access to services and are less likely to attend preschool or other non-parenting programs than native children. This makes it important to assess supports available at home and determine if stressors pose a risk for children’s development. The purpose of this study is twofold: (1) examine the quality of home environment and parenting practices for newly immigrant families of legal status, and (2) determine if child’s age, household composition, family’s income, education, assets, acculturation, and country of region predict child’s cognitive stimulation.
Data came from the first cohort of the New Immigrant Survey (NIS-2003), the first nationally representative survey of immigrants that have recently acquired legal permanency. The sample for the current study consisted of mothers with children three or younger (N=499). One child per family was selected to ensure independence of observations. Home environment was assessed with the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment-Short Form version for infants. Acculturation was assessed through two indicators: maternal English proficiency and legal permanency adjustment status. Home ownership was used as an indicator of assets. Weighted bivariate analysis was used to establish the national prevalence of specific home environment indicators, while multivariate ordinal logistic regression was used to model cognitive stimulation.
The majority of immigrant mothers reported positive parenting practices, indicated by a high prevalence of maternal cognitive stimulation and emotional responsiveness and low prevalence of spanking. A few differences were found by acculturation level. More acculturated mothers reported having a higher number of cognitively stimulating items (p<.001) but spanked their children more (p<.01) and kept them less in their view (p<.01) than less acculturated mothers. Children from less acculturated families saw their fathers less frequently (p<.001). A logistic regression model fit well with adequate predictive power. Controlling for other variables, mothers from Europe and Canada had higher cognitive stimulation scores than those from Africa and Middle East (OR=0.02, p<.001), while for mothers from Latin America and Caribbean (OR=0.4) as well as from East and Southeast Asia (OR=0.3) scores approached statistical significance (p<.10). Controlling for other variables, English proficiency (OR=1.7, p<.001) and home ownership (p<.05) were significant predictors of cognitive stimulation. Mothers with higher English proficiency and those who own their home scored higher on cognitive stimulation than those with a lower English proficiency, renters and those who lived in free of charge living arrangements.
Discussion and Implications:
The overall results suggest that a large proportion of immigrant children live in healthy and supportive environments, supporting the “healthy immigrant paradox”. Nevertheless, environment and culture are important for children’s development. Newly arrived, those with lower English proficiency and assets and from non-European cultural backgrounds may benefit from extra supports to their parenting and stimulation of children’s cognitive development.