The impact of parental absence on early childhood development
Aree Jampaklay, Mahidol University
Kerry Richter, Mahidol University
Kanchana Tangchonlatip, Mahidol University
Sutham Nanthamongkolchai, Mahidol University
This analysis investigates the impact of parental migration on early childhood development in Thailand, based on a study conducted at the end of 2013 to early 2014 in one northern and one northeastern province with high out-migration rates. The survey purposively selected children aged 36 months and younger from three household types based on the presence of both parents, mother only, or neither parent. The Denver II screening tool was used to assess whether children had suspected delayed development and children were weighed and measured to assess malnutrition or obesity. In total, 923 children are included in the analysis. Our findings show reasons for concern about children living separately from parents, particularly from their mother. Results from multivariate analysis reveal that the crucial factor for delayed development among early childhood is whether the mother is present in the household. Children who were cared for by others were not at higher risk of delayed development as long as their mother was present, while the father’s absence did not make a difference, when other factors are controlled. Mothers may be able to create a more favorable home environment for language development than other family members. Our findings also confirm the bond of affection between mother and child as instrumental for healthy development in early life. This study raises concern for the large number of children living separately from their mother, and raises questions about the long-term effects of parental migration for this generation of Thai children. Our results may be applied in other settings where migration of parents is also common.