Abstract: Gender, Family Dynamics, and Resource Utilization Among Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Gender, Family Dynamics, and Resource Utilization Among Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees

Friday, January 18, 2019: 10:15 AM
Union Square 19 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Miriam Kuttikat, Ph.D, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Background: Current refugee research has often overlooked examining the complexity of refugee family dynamics, particularly of post-migration stressors, parenting cognitions, parenting perceptions, parenting goals, parenting practices, and parenting styles. This presentation unravels the association between refugee family dynamics and the utilization of resources by both male and female participants. Furthermore, analysis of this data provides an explanatory model to examine the availability, accessibility, and utilization of formal and informal resources by both male and female participants, and its effect on family dynamics.

Methods: This mixed-method research was conducted with 120 families (120 parents and 120 adolescents) for this project (Time 1 and Time 2 with a one-year gap), which took place in Sri Lankan Tamil refugee camps in Trichy, India. The research team used systematic randomized sampling to obtain a representative sample of the Tamil refugee population in camps.

Results: Quantitative data analyses indicated that refugee fathers’ post-migration stress was associated both concurrently and longitudinally with both male and female parents’ physical and mental health (r = .27, p = .008). Male adolescents reports of felt acceptance from both male and female parents at baseline were associated both concurrently and longitudinally with self-reported physical and mental health (r = -.29, p = .004). However, both male and female adolescents reported that the cross-sectional association between daily stressors and internalizing problems was exacerbated at higher levels of family dynamics. Results from qualitative analyses revealed that both parents’ and adolescents’ cognitions, perceptions, goals, and practices were along the lines of  ‘keeping unity to honor their family’. The authoritarian Tamil parenting style expected Sri Lankan Tamil refugee adolescents to follow their gender roles and rules regardless of their true emotions towards the rules; therefore, all adolescent participants obeyed parents’ rules. The qualitative analysis did not reveal the effect of post-migration stressors on family dynamics. However, female participants mentioned utilizing organizational support (formal support from OfERR) to address their post-migration stressors and utilizing family support (informal) to address the challenges in families. Research results explain the presence of ‘loss caravans’ in many refugee families, particularly for male participants. Sri Lankan Tamil refugee fathers are the ones who took lead to leave their homeland to shield their wives and children, which causes them a significant loss of their resources. In these circumstances, refugee fathers are trying to protect their children’s identity from further loss by trying to solve the struggles within the family and by not displaying their challenges to the outside world.

Implications: In conclusion, participant responses on daily stress, family conflict, and health showed that there is a connection between male refugee participants needs that requires a collaborative effort which indicates allocating more resources for male participants, and the need to expand our thoughts from prioritizing daily stress as the only resource which refugees need to survive in host countries to include other less-obvious, yet clearly significant, needs. In fact, creating a family-based intervention for both gender parents and adolescents which can prioritize and, develop the associations between daily stressors, family conflict, and health.