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“Raising a ‘different’ child in a country where we are different”. A survey of immigrant families in Norway

Elena Albertini Früh, Zineb Rachedi, Hilde Lidén

Research Framework: Living with a child with special needs due to chronic health conditions is a heartfelt reality for many families in Norway. It requires adaptation for all the members of the family. This situation can be especially complicated for immigrant families.

Objectives: The purpose of this article is to understand the ways in which immigrant families from different backgrounds cope with their child’s health problems.

Methodology: The data is based on a qualitative study of twenty-seven individual, semi-structured interviews and three focus group interviews with newly immigrated parents or parents with an immigrant background. The inductive analysis is based on content analysis.

Results: Living with a child with special needs requires a redefinition of the roles and contributions of each parent. We found that the coping strategies used to meet the child’s special needs are accompanied by conjugal and parental practices that oscillate between changes and resistance of traditional gender roles and reproductions and “inventions” of cultural practices. For these families, the issue of work is a central theme for both women and men. On one hand, the mothers prefer paid work (and adapting to the Norwegian way of life) while on the other hand, they also need to meet expectations of being “the caregiver/nursing family” within which the disabled child is at the center of their concerns.

Conclusions: Social relations (developed through work or by maintaining of network of friends and extended families) as well as public support from the welfare system, are important resources for coping with a family life that includes the provision of care for a child with a disability or chronic disease.

Contributions: The study was carried out in collaboration with Lisbeth Gravdal Kvarme and funded through The Research Council of Norway as a part of the “Ethnic differences in labour market participation, health and sickness absence among parents caring for disabled or chronically ill children” project (n°227022/H20).