Caution and Hope for Children of International Educators and Humanitarian workers

Tanya crossman

When TCK Training released our white paper, Caution and Hope: The Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Globally Mobile Third Culture Kids, we knew we were only beginning to scratch the surface of what we could learn from the data we had collected from 1,904 individuals who completed our 2021 survey on developmental trauma in globally mobile Third Culture Kids. This is part of a series of blog posts that looks a little deeper at certain sub-groups represented in the data.

Caution and Hope for Children of International Educators and Humanitarian Workers

In our survey of nearly 2,000 people who grew up internationally, we discovered that 19% (1 in 5) of those who grew up in education or humanitarian families were at high risk of adverse outcomes in adulthood. In this blog post, we go through the data from our white paper "Caution and Hope" that applies specifically to these groups: things that are hard to hear, along with what we can do to cultivate long term thriving for children growing up in the education and humanitarian worlds.
In our survey of developmental trauma among globally mobile Third Culture Kids, we asked participants to list all the reasons they/their family had lived outside their passport country. We also asked them to choose a primary mobility sector they most identified with. 98% identified with one of six primary sectors: mission, business, military, diplomat, education, and NGO/IGO.

 Both the education and NGO sectors had fewer than 100 respondents (92 and 58 respectively). A sub-group of 100 people is important for high quality statistics, and for this reason we combined them into a single data set of 150 respondents we labeled “Edu-NGO.” In this blog post, we will take a detailed look at who comprised these sectors, some of the similarities and differences between them on a smaller scale, and how the larger Edu-NGO group compared to other sectors we sampled. 
Breaking Down the Edu-NGO Sector

The Edu-NGO sector comprised several different experiences. On the Education side, there were mostly children of educators. Dr Ettie Zilber wrote a book about these TCKs, using the term “Ed Kids” to describe them. We also had 11 TCKs in our sample who lived overseas because their parents were studying. Often this happens when a parent has a student visa in order to get a PhD or other high qualification that was not available (or not available at a high standard, or in the field they were pursuing) in their own country.

On the NGO side, we had TCKs from a wide range of experiences within the general humanitarian/charity sector. Some were with intergovernmental organizations, others were with non-governmental organizations. For the purposes of this survey, we also included those whose families worked for governmental charity/humanitarian groups (such as USAID) in the NGO group. Throughout this blog post, we will call this the Humanitarian sub-group.
There are some differences in how the two groups experienced global mobility. Knowing that these sub-groups are smaller and therefore less accurate representations of the whole populations being discussed (particularly the Humanitarian sub-group) we nonetheless present these differences here.

Core Education Type

When the education and Humanitarian sub-groups are distinguished, there are some differences in core education type. The education stats among mission kids were very different from the rest of our TCK sample, so separating the stats for mission and non-mission groups is useful.
The big discrepancy is that TCKs from the Education sector were far less likely to attend boarding school or be homeschool than TCKs from the Humanitarian sector. This puts Education TCKs more in line with the rest of the non-mission TCKs than those from the Humanitarian sector. Humanitarian TCKs were six times more likely to attend boarding school than non-mission TCKs generally, and 2.5 times more likely to be homeschooled.

Discrepancies between the two sub-groups also appear when mobility is considered. The Humanitarian TCKs experienced greater childhood mobility than the Education TCKs across all three categories we surveyed: number of countries lived in, number of location moves, and number of house moves. 

When it came to country moves, Education TCKs were quite close to the overall average of 1,904 TCKs in our sample. Humanitarian TCKs, on the other hand, were much more mobile; they were more than twice as likely to experience extreme country mobility (living in more than five countries before age 18).
When it came to both location moves and house moves, it was Humanitarian TCKs who were closer to overall average mobility among the 1,904 TCKs in the full sample, while Education TCKs were far less mobile. Education TCKs were more than five times less likely to experience extreme location mobility (moving location more than 10 times before age 18) than TCKs in general, and 14 times less likely to experience extreme house mobility (moving house more than 15 times before age 18). One theory we have here is that boarding school students tend to experience higher mobility, and since there were almost no boarding school students in the Education sub-group, this may have impacted overall mobility rates.

ACE scores

Adverse Childhood Experiences have been widely studied since the 1990s, across multiple countries and continents. Scores of four or higher are considered high risk, as numerous studies have linked scores of 4+ to various negative behavioral, psychological, and physical health outcomes.There was not much differentiation between the two sub-groups when it comes to ACE scores, despite the high mobility among the Humanitarian sub-group. The Edu-NGO group had lower ACE scores than the group overall, and especially than the non-mission group, but still higher than studies of single nation groups done previously. 

In the survey overall, TCKs who experienced extreme mobility were significantly more likely to have high ACE scores. 

The clear takeaway from this data is an overwhelming correlation between high risk ACE scores (4 or more) with those who indicated a large number of location moves (more than 10 before age 18). While most other groups had fewer than 20% with an ACE score of 4+ (with the exception of 6-7 moves at 21%), the group who moved more than 10 times had a rate of over 30% with ACE scores of 4 or more. In other words, nearly a third of TCKs in our sample who moved more than 10 times during childhood had a high risk ACE score of 4 or more, compared to less than a fifth of those who moved less frequently.

Caution and Hope:
The Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Globally Mobile Third Culture Kids

While the number of TCKs from the Humanitarian sub-group is too small for more in-depth analysis, further research with this group is certainly indicated, to see if there is a particular protective factor at work here. 

Caution and Hope

Despite this positive note, there is still reason for caution. One fifth of TCKs in the Edu-NGO sector recorded high-risk ACE scores of 4+. This puts them at higher risk for health complications, addiction, and mental illness. Yet there is also hope. In our white paper we also highlighted research into Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs). We know that when a high number of PCEs are present during childhood, they have a protective effect even when high ACEs are also present. Unfortunately:

In the TCK population, PCEs are less likely to be obtained organically. Their highly mobile life makes it difficult for four of the seven PCEs involving community relationships to be maintained and fostered.

Caution and Hope:
The Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Globally Mobile Third Culture Kids

When international schools, and even local schools, invite teachers to work outside their passport countries, they are also inviting risk into the lives of these teachers’ families. When humanitarian organizations, including NGOs, IGOs, and governmental charities, send their employees to live and work abroad, they put their employees’ children at higher risk. Therefore it is the responsibility of these sending and inviting organizations to  implement protective measures, and provide education and training to their staff to help them do the same at home. TCK Training is by your side the whole way, providing books, curricula, in-person and online training for staff and parents, and certifications so your on-site staff can improve their TCK care. Whatever you need to better protect the children in your care, we’re here to help.  

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