left behind

I met Maria a few nights ago and reviewed Irina's story. Irina was one of my very first encounters in my road work. I had met her when she had just been out of work: she was a family assistant for an elderly man who had died a few days earlier. Since he was gone, she no longer had the right to sleep in his apartment.

Thus, Irina had been sent away by the man's grandchildren. Sent away, without a contract to protect her or a company to provide her with another job. Irina worked illegally and remained in the black: on the street. It was no longer needed, and just as that old man was gone, she had to go too. The same thing they did with Maria the other day: the elderly woman she was taking care of was dead; she stayed in her home in the days following her death and waited for her grandchildren to arrive from abroad, where they live. Although they are wealthy people, they had not worried that the elderly relative would be cared for by a woman without a contract, nor did they bother to accompany her to the door. He had to go because, even in his case, the old woman was no longer there and Maria had to go with her too. Immediately and in the invisibility, moreover, of his contract: it did not exist. They didn't wonder where she would go, where she would sleep. She had been sent away while still in her pajamas. She gathered her few belongings, put on a dress and left the house. He had his personal bag with him, another small bag with some clothes and he wore a flowery dress from which pajama bottoms could be seen underneath. Maria was terrified that she ended up on the street without a roof over her head. That evening we tried everything to find her a place to spend the night, but Covid does not facilitate the reception, already sporadic, at night. If you don't have a tampon in the dorms, you don't go in. If you do not find a pharmacy that does it at night, the tampon, you are forced to enter the dormitory the next day. So Maria remained on the street. She was afraid. His luck was that he had to be paid for the past month by other people he worked for during the day. She raised some money and managed to pay for a room for the following evening. 

I could give you many more examples like these. Armies of women who arrive in Italy for the most part from Eastern European countries, who leave husbands, sons and daughters or parents, who leave a home and who leave in search of an affordable future. When they have a family they send them money on time.

Often they work without a contract and just as frequently it ends up that, when the person they care for dies, they immediately lose their accommodation. Not having a contract that protects them and not having savings because they send everything they earn to their families in their countries of origin, they are left without a penny in their pockets and without a place to stay. The other day I saw the announcement of an Italian temporary agency that was looking for a family assistant for € 1,70 per hour. Shameless.

There are many who end up on the street. Some find a solution immediately, those who let themselves be hosted, those who find makeshift accommodation, others end up on the street. And as soon as you touch it, the road becomes almost like a glue that never lets you go. There are many that remain on the street. Taken by fear for the future, by feelings of guilt for no longer being able to send money to their children, for the uncertain future that awaits them, they get lost and remain on a sidewalk. When you end up on the street, you stay there for a moment. The most delicate interventions of those who work there are those immediately, as soon as you intercept the person. Getting off the road becomes more and more difficult day after day.

Maria immediately left the street. Irina stayed there

This is how many women end up on the street. The stories like that of Irina and Maria are many and just a whisker is enough to stay on the street. Irina never left. I met her a couple of years ago and then she disappeared into thin air. I saw her only recently: in the throes of alcohol, with an alcoholic neuropathy in the lower limbs and with twenty years more on her. Then I replayed her and learned that she had been attacked and beaten. She had found a person with whom she spent her days, they hugged, laughed. Now I don't know where he is anymore. She had a job in her country of origin, but something brought her to Italy. He still has his children there.

Irina, Maria and the army of white orphans

Since 2008 with the studies by Unicef ​​(UNICEF, 2008) on the consequences of immigration on minors, increasing attention has been developing on the effects that migration and labor mobility dynamics have on transnational families and on the minors involved, both in Europe and in non-EU countries.

In 2012 the European Commission published a report on groups of people defined as vulnerable affected by the effects of migration (European Commission, 2012): this document highlighted the effects of mobility in Central and Eastern European countries and highlighted the particularity of the migratory phenomenon for these countries above all from a social, political and economic point of view. A summary was provided to understand the major migratory trends involving Member States, candidate countries for entry into the European Union and Eastern European countries, with an eye to the labor market, social and regional development, but also to the well-being of minors in conditions of social disadvantage who remained in their countries of origin (European Commission, 2013).

This and other more recent international studies show how migratory flows (and labor mobility) affecting various countries including those of the European Union and above all Italy strongly characterize the social, economic and working realities of the nations involved.

There is talk of men, women and children who move from their country of origin to another, be it European or not. They have different ages, but are mainly part of the working age. Within this large flow of transnational families who, partly by choice, partly due to professional obligations, move from one country to another, there are specific phenomena that concern the various protagonists involved.

Often the migration choice is not always desired or in any case brings with it a series of renunciations and compromises. This is the case with men and women who travel for professional reasons in search of a better future for themselves and their families. They are often mothers and fathers who move due to difficult living conditions in their country of origin and who, in order to offer themselves and their children a better future, decide to move for professional reasons. It is worth pointing out here that these are not always conditions of extreme hardship as a Westerner might think of developing countries. Suffice it to say that in Europe itself, even among those long-standing member countries, that is, which contributed to the foundation of the roots of the European Community, a large flow of people move within Europe itself or elsewhere for professional reasons, to seek both better working conditions, but also because professional mobility is now on the agenda. Many of the people who move to seek better living conditions do it alone, having to leave the rest of the family at home when they are there. Here we are dealing with more precarious conditions, in which those who move do so not being able to take their family with them. It does so by voluntary choice, but perhaps also a little forced, because who would like to divide themselves from their sons and daughters to emigrate leaving them at home? These are the courageous and even somewhat dramatic choices that new workers, but above all female workers, have to face.

Extremely current is the phenomenon of girls and boys called Children Left Behind or Home Alone or Orfani Bianchi in Italian. Different terms to describe a common phenomenon, that of boys and girls who stay at home in their country of origin while their parents move in search of work. They are boys and girls who remain with their families of origin or with the extended family or even in structures and institutions. Often waiting to reach the parents, often waiting for them to return. They are sons and daughters of those many women who in Italy find work as family assistants, more commonly called carers. Those women who go to live in the homes of the people they take care of, who find accommodation in a room where there is no space for a partner or even for a son or daughter.

It is a dramatic condition, but also in a certain sense functional for the host country. Convenient because a single woman is more willing to work and especially to stay in a single room. It is a better condition for the employer because, if it includes room and board, it will be easier to accept these conditions. Then this is where the problem becomes social and political. They are women who suffer from isolation, who have to cope with the management of change and the dynamics related to long-distance parenting. They often develop feelings of sadness, emptiness, loneliness and depressive experiences. It is what is called the Caregiver Syndrome or Italy Syndrome, precisely because many of these women work in our country.

In addition to this, there are many other open questions. These women are victims of xenophobia and racism, but also of the difficulties related to re-emigration. Returns to their homeland, in fact, have a double stigma: envy for those who return, the non-acceptance of citizens who return to their country of origin, loss or loosening of the ties of origin, suffering never compensated for by distance.

We must also focus on the de-humanization of these "caregivers", on their commodification, on the nationality / crime combination, on remote parenting and on the never filled suffering caused by distance. We are talking about emptiness, of isolation and loneliness, but also of convenience.

A Western country proud of being modern too often risks isolating and commodifying new family workers and assistants, does not recognize them and feeds their stigma. It is the same cosification of the people we consider more fragile than us. The same happens with people who do not have a fixed abode, those who have a mental fragility, even temporary or when they deviate from normality and end up on the edge of that annoying Gaussian bell.

Joanna Teti


European Commission, 2012. Policy brief: Social Impact of Emigration and Rural-Urban Migration in Central and Eastern Europe, VT / 2010/001. European Union, 2012.

European Commission, 2013. Commission Recommendation of 20.2.2013. Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage. Brussels, 20.2.2013, C [2013] 778 final

UNICEF, 2008. National analysis of the Phenomenon of Children Left at Home by their Parents who Migrate Abroad for Employment. UNICEF, Alternative Sociale Association, Gallup Organization Romania, Romania.

Photo by Mihis Alex, pexels.com

* Notes on the author: Giovanna Teti is a psychologist, psychotherapist and expert in psychodiagnostics. He initially worked in the territorial services for adults and with the developmental age, and then devoted himself to the sector of hospital psychology. He has been involved in adoptions for several years and is currently the contact person for the Rome office of the Regional Service for International Adoptions. For some years she has been working with homeless people as a street worker for the Municipality of Rome. Partner of PsyPlus since 2021, she is currently dedicating herself to the development of the Area dedicated to Social Inclusion and to the fight against serious adult marginalization with the aim of carrying out Housing First projects in the cities of Rome and Pescara.

Transnational families, job mobility, white orphans, homeless people, Children left behind

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