Migration to a diﬀerent culture may aﬀect children’s opportunities for play and social interaction, which are essential for developing cognitive and social skills. Delayed and disordered early development can lead to poorer wellbeing, lower chance of employment and higher risk of crime.
The UK has Europe’s largest and longest-established Somali community. In Bristol, Somali children make up five per cent of the child population.
We are examining early experiences of pre-school children and their families from Somali migrant backgrounds, as they may be at greater risk of difficulties with their early language, learning, and social and emotional development than children from more advantaged backgrounds.
This study aimed to understand more about migrant Somali families’ experiences of play and social interaction opportunities in the UK, to inform ways to improve outcomes for young children in disadvantaged migrant families.
We interviewed six Somali mothers in Bristol, asking about their experience of early (pre-school) childhood in the UK and Somalia, and what they saw as facilitating or restricting children’s early opportunities for play, social interaction and development.
In Somalia, the mothers described:
Despite the conflict in Somalia, this structure of shared understanding and support created a sense of safety and freedom that facilitated play, social interaction and children’s increasing maturity.
By contrast, in the UK, they described multiple constraints on children’s play ad social interaction:
Our findings show how disadvantage can impair early child development in migrant Somali families. Understanding and improving neighbourhood geography, as experienced and shaped by parents and children, seem important for promoting early child development in refugee families. Social isolation and lack of safe places to play are key points to address.
We have created a policy briefing which includes recommendations for local authorities – particularly those with large Somali populations – and community health services to consider.