Parenting From Abroad : The impact of migration on 'barrel children'

KINGSTON, Jamaica — School soccer games and award ceremonies always trigger painful reminders for 15-year-old Lejeane Reid. They remind him that his father is not there. When Lejeane was 8, his father moved to Canada for a job opportunity, leaving him behind in Jamaica.

“I remember that he migrated when my baby brother was just born, and it affected me in a way because the only way I can contact him or see him is over the phone," said the teenager as he nervously tugged at the bottom of his powder-blue shirt.

As Lejeane waits for friends after school, he shares his love of Social Studies and English. “I do good in school and I want to be a lawyer but I don’t know if my dad knows that,” he said. “He don’t really keep up with me anymore.”

Children like Lejeane whose parents move abroad, most likely for work, are often referred to as "barrel children," after the circular brown fiber or blue plastic shipping containers used to send material support to those that are back home. However, what can't be shipped in these containers and is therefore missing from the lives of these children, is emotional nurturance.

These children are often left in the care of relatives or friends for extended periods of time. When a family member (in this case a parent) moves abroad, it can take two to 10 years or more to satisfy the legal, financial, and immigration requirements of countries like the United States to bring other family members over. Some "barrel children" never see their parents again.

Although Lejeane does not remember much about the day his father left home eight years ago, he says he will never forget how he "just felt left out.”

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