A recent research study conducted by Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) and Sheridan College in Brampton, Ont., sheds light on the experiences of immigrant youth who have endured verbal and physical abuse within their families. Titled “Breaking the Silence: The Untold Journeys of Racialized Immigrant Youth through Family Violence,” this interdisciplinary project, led by Associate Professor Purnima George from TMU’s School of Social Work, delves into the enduring impact of family violence on these young individuals.
Maria, a 23-year-old international student from Guyana, bravely shared her personal struggles, recounting how she resorted to self-harm during her teenage years as a coping mechanism while witnessing her father’s abuse toward her mother. It wasn’t until she distanced herself from her family and found support at her university that she began her path toward healing, although she still grapples with anxiety.
Another participant, Sandiran, a 26-year-old Sri Lankan Canadian, revealed the traumatic experiences of their childhood, witnessing their father’s abusive behavior due to war trauma, schizophrenia, and heavy drinking. These heart-wrenching stories underscore the urgent need for support services for immigrant youth and highlight the complexities of the systems perpetuating such abuse.
The research report emphasizes the pressing need for trauma-informed mental health support and addressing the structural and social barriers faced by racialized immigrant families. In contrast to the limited research available on the impact of family violence on racialized immigrant children in 2020, this new study aims to bridge this gap and improve the representation of children’s perspectives while enhancing support services’ effectiveness.
The research project prioritized giving voice to the victims and allowing them to express their feelings authentically. The youth participants provided recommendations based on their experiences, addressing the shortcomings they encountered while seeking support. These recommendations, detailed in the report, offer valuable insights into improving existing systems, as noted by Archana Medhekar, a family law specialist.
The researchers were mindful of the participants’ past traumas, taking steps to ensure their safety and well-being during and after the interviews. Purnima George, the principal investigator and lead author of the study, emphasized that the conversation extended beyond the negative impacts to focus on constructive recommendations, resulting in a more productive dialogue.
The study’s recommendations have been meticulously organized to be applicable at an operational level for various practitioners, with input from experts like Bethany Osborne, who contributed her expertise in community and teaching. While the research primarily targets social services and the justice sector, it also considers the involvement of other systems, such as education and law enforcement, in supporting children affected by family violence.
In addition to highlighting the strengths of children who have endured family violence, the research underscores the role of schools in providing support. The authors advocate for giving children a voice in the family court process and urge policy changes to address systemic inequities faced by racialized immigrants, a concept gaining traction in Canada.
Recent legislative developments, such as Bill C-233 and the Strengthening Safety and Modernizing Justice Act in Ontario, reflect a growing recognition of the importance of educating judges and justices on intimate partner and family violence. The researchers also recommend comprehensive training for educators, social workers, and those in the justice system, emphasizing anti-racist, anti-colonial, trauma-based, and culturally appropriate approaches.