Shining a spotlight on parentification in Aotearoa

When Nadia Singh first learnt about the concept of parentification within her Bachelor of Applied Social Work Te Torino, she began to realise the process came close to home.

“Initially, I didn’t know it was, but when I looked further into it, it became an illustration of my upbringing,” describes Nadia.

Parentification is the process of role reversal whereby a child is obliged to act as parent to their own father, mother or sibling.

Nadia was the eldest of seven children, all raised by her grandmother. As the eldest, she took on multiple roles expected of an adult and was effectively head of the household for weeks at a time.

Now a mother to two daughters, Nadia chose to explore the concept of parentification as her Year 4 student research project. She and 13 peers presented their work in Symposium Presentations at the MIT Wharenui last Tuesday.

Titled, Growing up in the shadows of parentification, Nadia talked about how there is a lack of cultural perspective documented in the literature about parentification, even though it is an issue in Māori and Pasifika communities.

“The term ‘young carers’ is used in New Zealand to describe those who are considered to fall into the ‘parentified’ category,” she wrote in her abstract.

“But this is more tailored to carers caring for elderly or disabled, which isn’t the invisible population that deserve to be accounted for. The main theory underpinning my research is kotahitanga, used for a holistic view.”

“There are good outcomes and there are bad,” explains Nadia. “But as I started to look closer into, the lack of cultural knowledge in the Māori and Pasifika context, is not out there.”

Senior Lecturer at the School of Social Work and Sport, Dr Melanie Wong, is incredibly proud of this group of Year 4 students, who produced great work as COVID-19 threatened to interrupt their studies.

“The presentations today have been awesome – these students all chose their own topics, relating to social work, to explore,” describes Dr Wong.

She also feels like there’s nowhere near enough research being completed in Aotearoa.

“Parentification is a field that we need further development in – there’s not enough literature in this field, especially in the New Zealand context.

MIT Social Work graduates leave with interpersonal communication techniques, can deal with challenging situations through self-awareness, and self-insight and learn the tools to safely work with a diverse range of clients in a social services environment.

“I want to make some stepping stones for my children,” says Nadia, which is why she chose study Social Work at MIT.

“What I loved about my experience here was the people - our class was filled with different personalities, and I made two very close, best friends, they are aunties to my kids. But in the first year, I got to discover myself.”

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