Immigrant mothers of color often face additional challenges in advocating for services for their children with significant intellectual disabilities than their native-born, white peers, according to a research study co-authored by the parent of a Guild for Human Services student.

Nazli Kibria, a sociology professor and associate dean for social sciences at Boston University, and co-author and BU faculty colleague Walter Suarez Becerra observed and conducted in-depth interviews with 30 mothers of color from a variety of class, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. The research appeared in Social Problems, a peer-reviewed journal published by the prestigious Oxford University Press.

“Immigrants face an barrier because there is an assumption from school systems that they don’t have the knowledge so they can be more easily dictated to than non-immigrants,” Kibria says. “They are talked down to
at least initially.”

Additionally, immigrants are more apt to confront animosity from school officials for pressing for appropriate services for their children. “Especially for people who are economically disadvantaged, there can be underlying resentment on the part of school systems: Why are you asking for more? You would have gotten less in your country.”

For Kibria,
the research merges her academic interests – family, immigration, race, and childhood – with her personal experience as the mother of a child with special needs. Her son has been at The Guild for 10 years, starting as a day student before moving to residential.

As I watched other families going through this, I was naturally attentive when I met other immigrant mothers in the system,” says Kibria, who immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh when she was a teenager. “The project brings together my research interests with my personal interests in seeing how families face the challenge of raising a child with disabilities.

Kibra found that parent support groups provide immigrant mothers with much-needed help in navigating the complex system for children with special needs. “I can’t emphasize how important these groups are in helping parents receive support, get information, and learn about their rights,” she says. “They provide vital services for immigrant parents.”