Immigrant children exhibit significant variation in their mental health outcomes despite disproportionate exposure to socio-economic adversity compared to their non-immigrant peers. Identifying aspects of neighbourhood and family contexts that are most salient for immigrant children’s mental health can help to inform and target interventions to prevent mental disorder and promote mental well-being among this population.
The study analyzed multi-informant data from 943 first- and second-generation immigrant caregiver and child dyads from the Hamilton Youth Study, a representative sample of immigrant and non-immigrant families in Hamilton, Ontario. Multivariate multilevel regression models examined associations between neighbourhood and family characteristics and processes, and parent and child self reports of internalizing and externalizing problems.
Positive and negative parenting behaviours were significantly associated with internalizing and externalizing problems, with negative parenting demonstrating associations with externalizing problems across both parent and child reports (
b= 0.26–1.27). Neighbourhood social disorder and parental trauma exposure were associated with greater internalizing and externalizing problems, and neighbourhood immigrant concentration was associated with fewer externalizing problems for parent reports only. Adding parental distress and parenting behaviour to the models reduced the coefficients for parental trauma exposure by 37.2% for internalizing problems and 32.5% for externalizing problems and rendered the association with neighbourhood social disorder non-significant. Besides the parenting variables, there were no other significant correlates of child-reported internalizing and externalizing problems. Conclusions
Results highlight the importance of parenting behaviour and parental experiences of trauma and distress for immigrant children’s mental health. While not unique to immigrants, the primacy of these processes for immigrant children and families warrants particular attention given the heightened risk of exposure to migration-related adverse experiences that threaten parental and family well-being. To prevent or mitigate downstream effects on child mental health, it is imperative to invest in developing and testing trauma-informed and culturally responsive mental health and parenting interventions for immigrant families.