Beyond The Barrels: How Migration Impacts Caribbean Children

The Caribbean is a region where migration out of economic necessity is extremely common. Typically, such migration is viewed as having positive economic effects, for families and for the region. The negative impact this can have on the well being of children, who are often separated from their parents for several years, is often not taken into account.

Caribbean children left behind when parents migrate to another country—who receive material support in the form of goods sent in a shipping barrel—are often referred to as ‘barrel children.’

The complicated and expensive immigration process, coupled with fluctuating income earned by parents abroad, can cause lengthy separations. Parents and children can spend a decade apart. 

While some children of migrant workers are well taken care of by caregivers, and are in regular contact with their parents, others may be left to fend for themselves.

The children who are left behind can suffer from depression, low self-esteem, and feelings of abandonment. Psychologists say these feelings can lead to behavioral problems and increased risk of poor academic performance. Some children can also be vulnerable to abuse and predisposed to risky behaviors.

Melissa Noel's explores the complexities of migration on the island of Jamaica. She examines the long-term impact that prolonged parental separation can have on Caribbean children, and speaks with the health professionals who are pushing to create better ways to support these children and their families, both in the region and the diaspora.

Meet the Journalist: Melissa Noel

As they immigrate for a chance to provide for their famlies, parents are leaving their children behind in Jamaica—possibly creating a mental health problem among Jamaican youth.