‘Here, parents become nothing’: ‘Unparenting’ in Israel's policies toward Eritrean refugees

Lior Birger*, Or Kedem, Yochay Nadan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Refugees children and families cope with the complexities and opportunities of living in a new country. Based on in-depth interviews with Eritrean parents in Israel and the social workers who serve them, this article explores the relationship between exclusionary state policies, the negative social construction of refugees and parenthood experiences. It presents two main types of unparenting, which can be defined as the interrelation between structural power and the intimate parent–child relationship: direct unparenting, reflecting the physical and psychological impact on parenting of family deportations and welfare interventions in at-risk situations and more veiled unparenting, reflecting the accrual of a lack of legal status and rights and its impact – and that of racism – on the lack of parental resources such as time, income, education, emotional availability and, ultimately, the ability to ‘be parents’. Such precariousness further impairs parents' mental recovery, which in turn negatively impacts children's well-being. Still, parents' resilience is demonstrated by their ability to manage work, family and community life. We conclude by noting a dearth in the research on the impact of socio-political and legal contexts of the familial sphere, as well as the need to politicize social work practice with refugee children and families.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)583-592
Number of pages10
JournalChild and Family Social Work
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Eritrean refugees
  • Israel
  • asylum seekers
  • parenthood
  • parenting
  • unparenting


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