American Sociological Association

Sociology in Action: Leslie Wang

Leslie Wang, University of Massachusetts-Boston, worked on a parent intervention study with the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center. ASA asked Wang about her work:

What is the mission of Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center? Founded in 1969, Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC)  is the largest nonprofit social service provider for Asian American and Asian immigrant families in the Greater Boston Area, supporting over 2,000 children, youth, and adults each year at three locations in Boston and Quincy. BCNC helps communities by delivering holistic, family-centered, and culturally competent programs. The organization’s mission is to ensure that the children, youth, and families they serve have the resources and supports needed to achieve greater economic success and social well-being.

could you describe the project? Every year, in North American immigrant communities, thousands of infants experience lengthy separations from their parents when they are left or sent to live with extended family overseas. The practice of transnational, temporary boarding of these “satellite babies” is widespread and poorly understood. Versions of this practice have been documented in North American Chinese, South Asian, Caribbean, Mexican, and Filipino communities. Such family separations have provoked concern among scholars, child developmentalists, and community clinicians regarding potentially harmful consequences to children and parents. In recent years, a number of media reports have contributed to speculation about parent-infant separations.

However, there has been little research in this area. This particular pilot study focused on alleviating the possible adverse effects of parent-child separation amongst Chinese immigrant families in the United States. Based on preliminary research that my research team has conducted in Boston Chinatown since 2015, it is apparent that there is a strong need for services targeting families that have experienced prolonged parent-child separation. The specific aims of this study were to implement and evaluate the effectiveness of a community-informed, practitioner-delivered therapeutic intervention for parents whose child was cared for by others in China for at least six months and has subsequently returned to the parental household in the U.S.

This 10-week intervention, which ran from September to November 2017, is a cultural adaptation of an evidence-based parental psychoeducation and therapeutic program known as Parenting Journey ( Trained practitioners at BCNC first adapted this program to a more general population of Chinese immigrant parents several years ago. As part of our research collaboration, they further adapted it for this pilot study targeting parents who have experienced prolonged transnational separation from at least one child. Facilitators tailored the intervention to assist with the specific needs of these parents, including lowering their stress levels and reestablishing the parent-child relationship during a critical period of children’s adjustment to the new familial and cultural context.

Scholars argue that mental health interventions and parenting programs must be tailored to the specific needs of ethnic minority populations. This pilot study will serve as a foundation upon which additional components can be added in the future to address the unique needs of parents of satellite babies.

What sociological knowledge and/or skills did you use? Qualitative research methods, including participant observation of the 10 program sessions and in-depth interviews with participants and program leaders both pre- and post-intervention.

How did you connect with the BCNC? One of my research collaborators in Boston, Dr. Cindy Liu,  had already established a relationship with them a few years earlier.

Is there anything else you would like to share about this work? To our knowledge, this is the first parenting intervention aimed toward addressing the needs of parents who have experienced transnational separation from their young children in the United States. As such, it has a great deal of promise to be extended to other immigrant populations that engage in practices of family separation. Our research team would also like to thank the ASA for its generous support of this community collaboration, for which I received an ASA Spivack Community Action Research Initiative (CARI) Grant in 2014.