A Conversation with the Researchers of the CASTLE Project

Transnational families are a stark reality in Moldova and Ukraine. In Moldova, around 21 per cent of children (150,000) have at least one parent living abroad, while approximately 5 per cent of children (35,000) have both parents abroad, according to the latest available data. In Ukraine, 200,000 children are left behind by at least one parent, which concerns up to 25 per cent of all children in certain regions as per the latest research. 

In this article, we speak to Viorela Telegdi-Csetri and Aron Telegdi-Csetri, researchers at Babes-Bolyai University in Romania, about their work on transnational families and children left behind. Viorela and Aron are, respectively, the Project and Research Managers of the project entitled ‘Children Left Behind by Labour Migration: Supporting Moldovan and Ukrainian Transnational Families in the EU’ funded by the European Union and contracted by the MPF. Viorela and Aron have had extensive careers researching and publishing widely on transnational families and children left behind. The following is a transcript of the MPF’s conversation with the Telegdi-Csetris.

MPF: Tell us about your respective research backgrounds and the approaches you have brought to your field of research? What led you both to work together in the field of transnational families as a husband-wife duo?

Aron Telegdi-Csetri: We’ve been married for 18 years now. Originally, we had very different, however related, academic and research backgrounds and pursuits. Viorela has a background in anthropology and sociology and worked on gender issues earlier in her career. She is very much connected with the local and international intelligentsia in these fields. When she started her PhD studies in quantitative sociology, she ventured into the field of transnational motherhood, from which she further focused on transnational families.

Viorela Telegdi- Csetri: Aron’s academic roots stem from philosophy, which was very theoretical, but for his PhD, he studied and worked on critical and cosmopolitan philosophy. From there, we teamed up and focused our research on transnational families and cosmopolitanism.

MPF: One of the areas of your research on transnational families that is highly interesting is the delineation between the experiences of ‘leavers’ as well as of ‘stayers’ and of the ‘high skilled’ as well as the ‘low skilled’; and that of women and men. What are the main insights from this exploration of dichotomies?

Viorela Telegdi- Csetri: All three dichotomies you refer to should be seen as different aspects of the same social phenomenon but employing different strategies. High and low-skilled populations are significantly different in their capacities and competencies. Our data showed that often highly skilled people at home often became low-skilled abroad because that was the employment they could secure. In the case of low-skilled populations, social integration issues are more exacerbated and they are consequently more discriminated against. Regarding gender, we are speaking about more traditionalist and rigid gender societies such as Romania. Gender roles used to be firmly in place, with men securing a livelihood and women staying at home. This has changed due to migration, and once a woman migrates, for example, and generates more income than a man, this creates tension in the household. It is also difficult for men to take over care duties if they stay behind. Important to mention is the stigmatisation of migrant mothers who transfer care and continue to mother their children over geographical distances and time spent away. Unfortunately, there are still hostilities and judgements in most traditional societies.

MPF: Delving deeper into the experiences of ‘stayers’, your most recent research initiative funded under the Migration Partnership Facility, the ‘CASTLE’ project, examines how labour migration and mobility policies and schemes between Moldova and Ukraine and Romania/other EU Member States can exacerbate the vulnerabilities of ‘children left/staying behind’. Can you tell us more about this project?

Aron Telegdi- Csetri: This project has a long history and was in discussion for two years before it started. The CASTLE project is a research project that examines children’s status, situation and rights in the context of non-EU countries when there is parental migration to EU countries. Distance migrated are greater for non-EU citizens, and difficulties are linked to legal, economic and geographic factors. The project seeks to empower transnational families to stand up for their rights, and we want them to learn from this exercise and share their experiences with other transnational families. Integrating transnational family perspectives in all policies that affect them is paramount, and that is a key objective of the project.  We have seen that transnational families do not usually trust authorities and are often outside institutional monitoring. We view state institutions as partners under this action and aim to address this trust deficit. Through CASTLE, we ask questions and invite the very people who are experts through their lived experiences, i.e., transnational families, and engage them through participatory research to feedback on the methodology. The project is an action project, and thus we aim to translate research into action, which involves policy actions and direct training provisions for transnational families and policymakers.

MPF: We understand that the preliminary research on transnational families in Moldova and Ukraine has been completed and that an opening report conference was held in the first week of June 2022. Can you give us some insights that came out of this research?

Viorela Telegdi­- Csetri: There are many interesting findings. First, families encounter psychosocial problems, which should be viewed as dysfunctionalities. This is attributed to the deficit of belonging felt by children staying behind. Communication has been another key finding. We examined the functionality of communication, the availability of parents and the communication of children who are autonomous agents themselves. We have observed that the absence of parents can extend into temporal suspension, and virtual communication is not sufficient on its own. A key policy recommendation in this area would be to enhance transnational families' technology and communication capabilities. Another would be encouraging and facilitating regular physical meetings, potentially making them mandatory. Therefore, we recommend that employers make provisions for short holidays and travel for their foreign workers, potentially through vouchers, so parents do not attempt to save money but spend it on travel since they are inclined to save as much as possible. Based on our research findings, we also suggest accommodation vouchers since most parents abroad do not live in housing that can accommodate their families as many cohabitate with others. We also found that families are reluctant to report their departure and to delegate legal guardianship to the other parent or caregiver, which makes institutional monitoring difficult. Therefore, we recommend the creation of a so-called hybrid legal co-guardianship, whereby the migrant parent maintains full authority and responsibility towards the child through means of long-distance communication with the child, the caregiver and institutions, in partnership with the stayer caregiver who remains physically present with the child. “Transnational families have insufficient unawareness of one another, so a recommendation is to create an online group for children staying behind moderated by psychosocial professionals to avoid deviations (e.g. online bullying). For example, when asked what they wanted, one child respondent said they needed to speak to their peers more as a means to share their experiences.

MPF:  In the context of the project, a Research Centre for the Study of Transnational Families has been established at the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. Can you elaborate on the Centre's aims, objectives and research agenda in addition to how it can address the challenges confronted by transnational families and children staying/left behind?

Viorela Telegdi- Csetri: First, I want to emphasise one of the main objectives of the Centre is to serve as a hub for policy research and networking on the transnational families’ phenomenon in the South-Eastern-European, Eastern European and Pan-European space as well as globally. It aims to be a hub for policy change and for serving transnational families as beneficiaries that are a functional category of families with their own specificities and rights entitlements. The Centre aims to look systematically at the governance of transnational families from a multidisciplinary perspective. Beyond research, the Centre seeks to become a support platform for rights advocacy and information provision of transnational families and their members, including children remaining in their country of origin, mobile caregivers, elderly, sick people, and minorities of various kinds.

MPF: Thank you for speaking with us and sharing your amazing insights.

For more information on the project, click here.