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Invisible students: institutional invisibility and access to education for undocumented children

Francesca Meloni (Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)
Cécile Rousseau (Department of Social and Cultural Psychiatry, McGill University, Montréal, Canada)
Alexandra Ricard-Guay (Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, Florence, Italy)
Jill Hanley (School of Social Work, McGill University, Montréal, Canada)

International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1747-9894

Article publication date: 6 March 2017




In Canada, undocumented children are “institutionally invisible” – their access to education to be found in unwritten and discretionary practices. Drawing on the experience of a three-year university-community partnership among researchers, institutional and community stakeholders, the purpose of this paper is to examine how undocumented children are constructed as excluded from school.


The establishment of this collaborative research space, helped to critically understand how this exclusion was maintained, and highlighted contradictory interpretations of policies and practices.


Proposing the analytical framework of “institutional invisibility”, the authors argue that issues of access and entitlement for undocumented children have to be often understood within unwritten and ambiguous policies and practices that make the lives of young people invisible to the institutional entities with which they interact.


The notion of institutional invisibility allows the authors to integrate the missing link between questions of access and deservingness. The paper also reflects on the role of action research in both documenting dynamics and pathways of institutional invisibility, as well as in initiating social change – as both horizontal, and vertical mobilisation.



The authors would like to profoundly thank the members of the working group for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this draft, as well as for their invaluable collaboration in the research process.


Meloni, F., Rousseau, C., Ricard-Guay, A. and Hanley, J. (2017), "Invisible students: institutional invisibility and access to education for undocumented children", International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 15-25.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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