Multifinality of parental economic migration: The longitudinal interplay between risk and resilience factors predicting children's well-being

Young Teams Project number
Contract number TE 36/2022
Financing source: Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research, CNCS – UEFISCDI


Globally, there is a staggering 83% increase of the international migrant population, from 153 million in 1990 to 281 million in 2020 (United Nations, 2020), with the majority of these migrants originating from low-/middle-income economies in search of employment (International Organization for Migration, 2020). Consequently, there is a growing number of children ‘left-behind’ in their country of origin, with official estimates suggesting over half a million children of migrants left behind in European countries. The public representation is that these children’s short and long-term well-being is highly impacted by this separation. Nevertheless, the literature contains conflicting evidence, in some cases indicating no significant differences between ‘left-behind’ children and their counterparts.
The current status of the ‘left-behind’ children research faces multiple limitations and challenges. The first one concerns the disregard of outcome variability in ‘left-behind’ children.

The current representation of these children is negative and mostly based on studies in rural China, while findings on European children are mostly conflicting with regards to the outcomes of parental migration. These contradicting findings imply that the relationship between parental migration and child well-being outcomes is not straightforward, highlighting that focusing solely on the average effects of parental migration: (1) conceals the sizable degree of variability that exists in children’s adjustment, and consequently, (2) impedes the development of literature-informed risk-assessment tools for children’s post-migration maladjustment, ultimately (3) obstructing children’s access to effective intervention/ prevention strategies when facing temporary parental separation.

Secondly, given the contradicting evidence suggesting children’s well-being multifinality following parental migration, the next challenge is: Why do some children display affective-behavioural problems and school performance decrements as a consequence of parental economic (temporary) migration, while others remain relatively invulnerable to such problems or even thrive? This highlights the need to investigate this issue accounting for possible key factors that, in the presence of parental migration, lead to different patterns of adaptation.


The general aim is to extend the current limited understanding regarding the impact of parental migration upon children’s psychosocial well-being. 

First, we aim to investigate the independent and interactive contributions of potential risk and resilience factors involved in school-children’s post-parental migration outcomes (i.e., internalizing symptoms, conduct and peer-relations problems, academic outcomes). In this respect, we will:  

  • Investigate the roles of migration-specific factors (family’s financial stress, parent-child relationship, caregiving arrangements) that, in the presence of parental migration, lead to different paths in terms of psychosocial well-being. 
  • Investigate the contributions of individual characteristics that, based on the general research of children’s psychosocial well-being, may act as risk or resilience factors (emotion regulation strategies, prioritizing negative information – towards self and/or others) in interaction with/ independent of migration-specific contextual factors. 

Second, by employing a 3-wave longitudinal design, we aim to investigate: 

  • Children’s well-being outcome stability following parental migration
  • The independent and interactive risk for later adjustment problems generated by individual and migration-specific factors.


The project is relevant for both researchers in the field of child development, as well as for practitioners and policy makers in child wellbeing, healthcare, and education. 

  • Findings will bring substantial empirical advancements related to the impact of parental separation on school-children’s psychosocial wellbeing by including personal socio-cognitive and emotional factors as well as migration-related factors within the same longitudinal design. 
  • This will open new paths for investigating children’s wellbeing multifinality when facing different types of parental separation and constitute starting points for studying:
    • 1) the predictive power of individual and contextual characteristics in relation to adjustment to parental separation;
    • 2) the putative dependency of children’s wellbeing outcome stability on contextual changes. 
  • The project also has potential for crucial social impact, as revealing specific risk and resilience factors related to maladjustment to parental migration will facilitate:
    • 1) the development of literature-informed risk-assessment tools for children’s post-migration maladjustment;
    • 2) children’s access to effective intervention/ prevention strategies when facing temporary parental separation.

Summary of findings

The overall goal of the project was to expand our understanding regarding the impact of parental economic migration on the psychosocial well-being of children ‘left-behind’. 

Firstly, the project aimed to investigate the independent and interactive contributions of potential risk and resilience factors involved in children’s psychosocial well-being following parental migration (Objective 1). This objective was attained:

(1) through a systematic review of empirical studies on the differences between children with parents abroad and children without parents abroad across Europe (Study 1),

(2) by employing a study investigating contributions of migration-specific contextual factors and contributions of inter-individual characteristics involved in the well-being (internalizing symptoms, externalizing problems, interpersonal relationships with peers, academic performance) of children aged with parents working abroad (Study 2).

Secondly, using a three-wave longitudinal design, we aimed to (a) investigate the stability over time of children’s well-being post-parental migration, and (b) assess the risk for long-term adaptation problems generated by individual and/or migration-specific contextual factors (Objective 2).

    • This objective was met through the implementation of a longitudinal study, with re-assessments of well-being indicators and risk and resilience factors involved in children’s adaptation to parental migration at 6 and 12 months after the initial evaluation (Study 3).

Additionally, four other complementary studies were conducted (three cross-sectional, one longitudinal) that targeted the relationship between individual and contextual factors in children’s socio-emotional functioning.

From a scientific perspective, the current project has facilitated:

(1) the completion of the first systematic review that provides a comprehensive overview of the well-being of children and adolescents “left behind” in a European context;

(2) the completion of the first empirical study that investigates the interaction of individual factors and migration-specific factors in predicting the well-being of children with parents who have gone abroad. Through this study, it moves beyond exclusively focusing on the differences between children with parents abroad and those without a migration history, a practice that obscures the considerable degree of variability that exists in children’s adaptation;

(3) the completion of the first longitudinal study aimed at assessing the stability over time of children’s well-being post-parental migration, and the evaluation of the risk for long-term adaptation problems caused by individual and/or migration-specific contextual factors.

From an outcome perspective, the studies included in this project provide significant evidence regarding well-being variations in children “left behind”, emphasizing the need to approach the subject from a more nuanced perspective. The project’s findings demonstrate that:

(1) studies conducted at the European level depict a much more complex picture of how parental migration influences the well-being of “left-behind” children. Existing data does not confirm the existence of severe consequences of parental migration like those previously reported in a predominantly Chinese population (Fellmeth et al., 2018). Significant differences between children with parents abroad vs. those without a history of migration primarily emerge at the level of anxiety and/or behavioral problems. However, these differences can be modulated by certain migration-specific factors (e.g., duration of migration, the child’s relationship with the migrating parent);

(2) when comparing children with parents who have gone abroad and those without a history of parental migration, controlling for factors that may underlie the migration itself (e.g., family’s socio-economic status) lead to nonsignificant differences in mental health and well-being between the two groups;

(3) there are factors that increase the likelihood of those with parents abroad showing better post migration adaptation. These factors can be of an individual nature (adaptive emotional regulation strategies, reduced levels of distorted information processing), and of a migration-specific contextual nature (increased involvement of the parent abroad in child-rearing, high frequency of conversations with the child, lengthy conversations between the two). Understanding these risk/resilience factors in children with parents abroad can facilitate (1) the development of valid tools for assessing the risk of post-migration adaptation problems among children and adolescents; (2) access for children to effective intervention/prevention strategies in cases of temporary separation from parents.

Progress and Summary Reports

Team members