Are US Immigration Policies What is Best for Separated Children?

An ongoing challenge that some unauthorized parents must face when they come to the United States is losing and trying to regain custody of their children. This was the case with Araceli Ramos Bonilla, who crossed the border with her daughter Alexa in attempt to escape her abusive husband in El Salvador. Upon entering the United States, Alexa was taken into custody and put into foster care. Ramos was sent back to El Salvador and found herself in the middle of a two-year legal battle for custody of her daughter. After over a year, Ramos finally regained custody of her daughter, however, Alexa expressed that she missed her foster family a lot, as she had spent about half of her life with them. It is important to look at the case of Ramos and Alexa, as well as other similar cases, in the light of developmental psychology to understand the impact of being in a situation like this and what can be done to help improve the outcome.

The case of Ramos and Alexa not only shows the difficulty of being separated, but also the difficulties that come with being reunited. Reunification with parents after an extended period of time can cause a feeling of disorientation in the children and the necessity to rebuild family ties. The reunification process is ongoing and can take years. Research in developmental psychology has shown that at the beginning of the reunification, children tend to experience a significant amount of psychological distress, however, that distress seems to fade away over the years (1). Despite the psychological distress being seemingly short-term, it calls into question ethical concerns about whether it is worth it to put young children, like Alexa, through this difficult situation.

One way that children who are going through this situation can be helped is through the school system, namely through positive relationships with their teachers. Teacher-student relationships among immigrant youth have been linked to greater academic engagement and success (2). For immigrant children, familial connections often promote achievement in school. However, teachers can play an important role in helping students continue to succeed even if they are having changing family ties.

Another way that children who are going through can be helped is through neighborhood-based institutional resources. While research shows that family often plays a major role in child development, it also shows that neighborhood resources (such as youth centers) can also help children developmentally (3). Therefore, in an unstable family setting, it would be important for children who are undergoing separation be able to utilize these resources.

While it may seem like reunification may be the end to the challenges children face due to separation from their families, it is really the start of another set of difficulties. Therefore, United States immigration policy should take this into account when deciding the fate of the children whose parents have crossed the border with them. If the children are to be separated, it is important to try to minimize the psychological distress.

 

  1. Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying behind: Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26, 222–257.
  2. Motti-Stefanidi, F. & Masten, A.S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18, 126-135.
  3. Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50, 1771–1787.

Pillars of Society: Schools and Neighborhoods and their Impact on Immigrants’ Development

Immigrant children are first introduced to American culture through their schools and neighborhoods1. A major important psychological theory in developmental psychological posits that development is influenced by different environmental systems2. One of these systems is the microsystem, which includes schools and neighborhoods. Not only are immigrant children introduced to American culture through their experiences at school and in their neighbors, this also has implications for their development. Furthermore, as immigrant children navigate a new culture at school and in their neighborhood they might experience acculturative stress3. Acculturative stress is the psychological impact of adapting to a new culture. Usually stress arises when navigating a culture that is different from their original one3. However, even though schools and neighborhoods can be sources of acculturative stress, they can also provide resources that lessen the burden of adapting to a new culture.

Before addressing how schools and neighborhoods mitigate the consequences of adapting to a new culture, we need to understand the ways they  contribute to acculturative stress. In schools immigrant students are tasked with learning the beliefs, values, and language of the host society while still trying to retain their own culture’s customs3. This is might cause stress when trying to bridge these distinct cultures. Failure to adapt to the educational systems of the host society might be associated with poor school performance, for example, immigrant children are more likely to struggle in school and have poorer scores on standardized tests4. A recent report found that English-language learners from immigrant families tend to have lower test scores in math and reading when compared to non-immigrant students4.

Furthermore, studies show that immigrants usually live in poor neighborhoods that do not have access to resources that might help them successfully integrate into the receiving society5. For example, a report in 2010 found that 19.9% of immigrants compared to 13.5% of native born Americans lived in poverty6. Additionally, these immigrants were likely not have proper health insurance. Thus, when dealing with psychological distress immigrant children might not be able to access mental health services due to poverty.

However, promoting school engagement among immigrant students might help them cope with acculturative stress4. For example, educators should attempt to get to know immigrant students and their families as a way to foster a welcoming environment7. Sometimes this might prove challenging if children have been separated from their parents as a result of stepwise migration (one family member migrating first then to be joined later with other family members) 8. Educators can create an engaging environment by inviting immigrant students’ culture into the classroom7. A great way would be having students share popular stories or folktales with the class. Having a space to engage their own culture at school immigrant students might have an easier time adapting to the new culture while still maintaining their own.

Additionally, neighborhoods with high immigrant populations should aim at creating youth services that  help immigrant children engage in the receiving culture6. A good example is the YWCA in Carlisle, one of the youth programs they run is an after school homework club9. The program aims at providing an environment where students can complete their homework in an interactive manner and also get mentorship from tutors. The program is open to all students in the 1st to 5th grade. Thus, immigrant children might interact with other children in a less formal environment while also getting help with their school work. Youth services such as the YWCA after school homework club help immigrant children integrate into the receiving society and interact with other members of their community.

It is important to understand how schools and neighborhoods might create environments that make it difficult for immigrants to adapt to the receiving society’s culture. But we should also go further and investigate how these same microsystems can adapt strategies that are protective against acculturative stress. In doing so we might be able to create environments that are  supportive to immigrants.

  • Read “The Integration of Immigrants into American Society” at NAP.edu. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu/read/21746/chapter/2#
  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (2000). Ecological systems theory. In A. E. Kazdin & A. E. Kazdin (Ed) (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Psychology, Vol. 3. (pp. 129–133). Washington, DC, US; New York, NY, US: American Psychological Association.
  • Motti-Stefanidi, F., & Masten, A. S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18(2), 126–135.
  • Mitchell, C. (2017, October 25). Kids Count: Immigrants and Their Children Face Challenges on Path to Opportunity. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning-the-language/2017/10/immigrant_students_often_struggle.html
  • Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology,50(6), 1771-1787. doi:10.1037/a0036424
  • Immigrants in the United States: A Profile of America’s Foreign-Born Population. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://cis.org/Immigrants-United-States-Profile-Americas-ForeignBorn-Population
  • (2017, January 11). Creating a Welcoming Classroom Environment. Retrieved from http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/creating-welcoming-classroom-environment
  • Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying behind: Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26(2), 222–257. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558410376830
  • After School Homework Clubs. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ywcacarlisle.org/index.php/programs/specific-program/afterschool-homework-clubs

 

Navigating Life as an Immigrant Child: What can schools do to help?

What is the fastest growing segment of the United States population?  When posing this question to a group of collogues at the dinner table, not a single one could answer correctly.  By 2050, children from immigrant families will make up nearly one third of the population of children in the United States, making them the fastest growing segment1.  Not only do these children come from a variety of diverse cultural backgrounds, but their lived experiences can be wildly different based upon a myriad of contextual factors1.  The inability of anyone at my dinner table to point to this population as one of such immense growth indicates a couple of things.  First, a need for general population visibility, and second, an increased understanding of their needs, many of which will need to be met in the United States public education system.  Education has long been considered as the foundation for later life success, a belief that is not excusive to native born Americans, but is rather shared by parents across the globe2.  In order to foster an atmosphere of educational success in both the social and academic spheres of schooling, educational institutions must consider the unique factors and experiences of immigrant children in order to meet their needs.

In considering best practice for immigrant children in education, it is helpful to consider what will best facilitate their engagement within the school system at large.  Developmental research suggests that while school engagement is a predictor of positive academic achievement for both immigrant and non-immigrant youths, there may be specific factors that help to facilitate the engagement of immigrant children2.  These facilitators include the positive relationships between immigrant children and their parents, their teachers, and their peers within the context of education2.  Meaning, if immigrant children are made to feel important and motived within the classroom by their teachers and their peers, and then motivated to succeed academically at home; engagement and thereby achievement will increase2.  It is essential for parents and teachers alike to be made aware of the significance of these facilitators, which would not only lend to an increase in student visibility, but also in their educational success.  Creating opportunities for this kind of bi-directional communication between school and home community can lead to significant educational strides being made by immigrant youths2.

Despite the presence of these facilitators across the immigrant youth population, a variety of outside contextual factors may get in the way of their execution.  One of those being the presence of family separation.  Although family separation can happen for several reasons and look different depending on circumstance, in all cases it is the separation of the family unit, most typically a parent/parents from their child3Family separation due to instances of migration has been happening for decades, but it has garnered significant media attention due to policies imposed by the Trump administration.  While it is obvious that this separation is painful for all parties involved, it can actually result in significant short-term depressive symptoms for young immigrant children3.  If a child is coming to school anxious and depressed due to a lack of awareness of their parents’ status and location, it is grossly unfair to expect them to be fully engaged in the classroom.  In making policy decisions about family separation at the United States boarder as our political leaders are today, a lack of consideration for the needs of the fastest growing United States population is incredibly irresponsible.

In considering these factors, it may be beneficial to examine the successful practices that other countries adopt in their treatment of immigrant children in the public education sector to gain insight into what the United States can do to improve.  In countries like Canada, specifically the Province of Toronto, many public schools have put in place a number of immigrant-inclusive programs helping to foster their engagement in the classroom.  These include family outreach programs, one-on-one attention, immigrant specific classrooms with integration into general education, and culturally inclusive practices such as including tea sets in the classroom to increase visibility.  Policy makers in the United States may argue that Provinces such as Toronto, where every student receives the same amount of funding regardless of their school district, would be unattainable in the United States where funding varies by state and district.  However, several of these interventions come free of charge, and are simply based on an understanding and awareness of immigrant culture.  If educators and policy makers in the United States were made aware of (1) the scope and growth of the United States immigrant youth population, and (2) the importance of considering these cultural differences with regards to their impact on achievement, then perhaps they would consider the successful adaptation of these young migrants the creation of public and educational policy.

References

  1. Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50(6), 1771–1787. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036424
  2. Motti-Stefanidi, F., & Masten, A. S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18(2), 126–135.
  3. Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying behind: Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26(2), 222–257. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558410376830

 

 

 

The Impacts of Family, Education, and Community on the Development of an Immigrant Child

When considering the growth and development of an immigrant child, the adage: “It takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind. The relationships that are most important in an immigrant child’s life can be broken down into the categories of family, school, and neighborhood – it is essential that these roles produce positive interactions and experiences in order for the child to be raised in a safe environment.

One of the biggest impacts on any child’s development is the influence of parental figures. However, in the immigration process, many immigrant families experience an extended duration of separation from family members.1 It is not uncommon for parents to leave their children in the care of extended family members during the migration process due to its taxing complications.1 Many of these children are infants and toddlers and have an especially difficult time dealing with the absence of their parents.1 While technology allows for video chat and texting, it is hard for everyone to remain connected. Parents slowly become strangers to the children and vice versa, making even the reunion of the family a tough transition, as the roles of parent and child need to be reestablished. 1 It is not uncommon for the family as a whole to experience bouts of low self-esteem and depression due to this separation. 1 While these psychological symptoms are not typically lasting, their presence alone is a cause for concern. 1 It would be more beneficial for all parties involved if this separation was not a part of the immigration process.

School is also a critical factor in the development of immigrant children because it acts as a major source for their acculturation process.2 Since the school reflects the culture of the receiving society, it introduces the culture to an immigrant student which then helps them adjust to the new environment.2 Schools that have significant and appropriate curricula increases school-wide engagement and intrinsic motivation in all of the students, but it is particularly important for immigrants because of their navigation between experiencing two cultures.2 Within the actual school day, it is beneficial for immigrant children in particular to establish working relationships with teachers as they become an additional resource for their adjustment process, helping them learn about the new country, language, and educational requirements.2 However, this is not always possible, and many immigrant families find themselves migrating to neighborhoods that are socioeconomically disadvantaged because of their financial status.3

Beyond the financial disadvantages of these poorer neighborhoods, in some cases, it is actually better for immigrant children because they often find themselves in a community of immigrants.3 This is due to social cohesion and the strong bonds that exist between the neighbors.3 Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that not all immigrant children have this experience. Additionally, not all bonds will have positive effects on immigrant children’s academic accomplishments.3 The child’s network often includes people who have limited levels of education, none- English speakers, or does not know how the U.S. education system works and can instead be detrimental to their academic success and development.3

Immigrant children often face acculturative difficulties as well as normal developmental issues.2 Challenges include learning a new language, values, beliefs, and behaviors of the receiving culture, and connecting their different worlds and relationship with their heritage.2 It is crucial for immigrant children to have a solid support system in the major aspects of their life, especially familial ties, education, and the general community, in order to ensure a healthy development process.

 

References

  1. Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying behind: Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26(2), 222–257. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558410376830
  2. Motti-Stefanidi, F., & Masten, A. S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18(2), 126–135. https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000139
  3. Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50(6), 1771–1787. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036424

 

Considerations of Parents in the Immigration Process: The Roles of Parents, Schools, and Neighborhoods in Fostering Immigrant Children’s Development

Parents, schools, and neighborhoods are important factors immediately affecting children as they grow up4. However, these relationships may be different for immigrant children as they face disadvantages growing up as immigrants, including the increasing threats against their health. How do parents, schools, and neighborhoods determine how an immigrant child develops, and how do immigrant parents address this issue as they immigrate?

Family provides constant and direct support for children’s healthy development. However, parents may not always be there for immigrant children. Transnational families are growing as families separate when they immigrate1. Losing close support from parents may have negative outcomes for immigrant youth, as those with longer separation duration have been found to experience more depression and anxiety symptoms1. Alternatively relying on friends and family connections in the neighborhood may not provide support as it does not help with developmental outcomes3. Thus, the absence of parents is highly detrimental. Parents should be aware of this if they expect to be separated from their child as they immigrate. However, over time, immigrant children demonstrate less psychological symptoms, suggesting the effects of separation to be short termed and conveying the resiliency and coping ability of immigrant children in the absence of parents1. Knowing this, parents anticipating separation should provide the most long-distance support, such as maintaining contact through messaging and video calling, during the early stages of separation and trust their children to develop coping mechanisms as separation prolongs.

Providing distant support during separation is not the only way immigrant parents can do to foster their children’s development. Academic achievement in school can also yield positive adaptation and future outcomes for immigrant children2. As such, ensuring good academic outcomes, or school success, is important for immigrant youth’s development. School engagement, the children’s efforts and investment in classwork and school, has been found to promote school success, indicating better academic outcomes2. Thus, in order to promote school success and consequent positive developmental outcomes, parents can encourage high levels of children engagement with their schools. This also suggests parents to properly select schools with curriculum and programs most suitable for boosting child engagement with the school. For example, immigrant parents can send their children to schools with diverse teaching faculties, as immigrant students can have better engagement when they have teachers of similar race they can identify with.

Other than the school environment, the neighborhood is also an environment that can influence immigrant children’s development. Neighborhood institutional resources (access to educational, social, and health services) is found to be a large factor in determining how well immigrant children develop through providing adequate resources3. For example, a supper club formed in an immigrant neighborhood provides beneficial social resource for immigrant children, as families gather to share food and connect. Where there are more youth services, immigrant children have fewer internalizing problems (internal negative behaviors)3. In the case where children may face separation that lead to psychological symptoms1, having reliable neighborhood services may provide more support in place of parents. Furthermore, having educational resources translates to schools having quality programs and curriculum that foster school engagement and subsequently academic achievement2. As neighborhood institutional resources play such a large role, immigrant parents should choose to reside in the neighborhood with the most access to such resources to enable healthy development for their children.

In conclusion, aspects of the surrounding environment, parents, schools, and neighborhoods, greatly affect the immigrant child’s development. In the process of immigrating, parents need to pinpoint and intervene in such influential factors on their children’s development. Thus, they should have proper decision making as they commit to separation and select schools and neighborhoods.

  1. Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying behind: Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26(2), 222–257. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558410376830
  2. Motti-Stefanidi, F., & Masten, A. S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18(2), 126–135.
  3. Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50(6), 1771–1787. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036424
  4. Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (1998). The ecology of developmental processes.Handbook of child psychology: Theoretical models of human development, 1, 993-1028.

Are Our Immigrant Children at Risk?

Children face all sorts of challenges. It is on us – all of us – to educate ourselves about the types of challenges they face and how we can help. Whether you are a parent, an educator, or even a professional, there are a few key points of information you should know. In addition, you should also know who is at risk of falling through the cracks. One population of our children that has been neglected is immigrant youth. Immigrant children face challenges with separation, neighborhood cohesion, and school engagement.

 

One risk that is posed to immigrant youth is the potential to be separated from those most important. It is nearly impossible to avoid stories of family separation. The most common and emotion-evoking story we have seen is the story of separations at the border of the country and the detention of young children, either alone of with their families. These children are no doubt affected by this experience. However, we must remember that the experiences of separated and transnational families are all unique1. Some families are separated by force. Some parents make the decision to leave their children behind or send their children somewhere for a better life1. For example, some Chinese immigrants make the choice to send their American-born children to China while they continue to make enough money in the United States. No matter the reason, separation from a parent has negative effects on a child1. Specifically, when a mother is separated from the child for along period of time, the symptoms are the worst1. On the bright side, symptoms do seem to resolve over time1.

In addition to family separation, we must also focus on the issue of how to ensure the success of immigrant youth academically and socially. You may think that the geographic locations immigrant children live in and the community that occupies them affects this. However, in studies on neighborhoods, there was no clear understanding on whether or not neighborhoods that immigrant youth grow up in have a great affect2. Things such as family processes and immigrant status may have more of an impact. This is not to discount the possible far-reaching effects of quality neighborhood programsthat promote social cohesion. Unfortunately, immigrants are more likely to be living below the poverty line and, in general, neighborhoods low on the socioeconomic scale tend to be low in social cohesion.

Besides neighborhoods, school is also an important developmental space for immigrant youth3.  In all young developing minds, school engagement promotes overall success3. School engagement is a somewhat complicated and multilayered psychological concept; however, it can be broken down. School engagement is about how much the student participates in their learning, their emotions and reactions in the classroom, and how they view their investment in their own education3. Obviously, successes in school and beyond are very important to various levels of achievement. It is importatnt to look for ways to integrateimmigrant youth into US schools. Unfortunately, immigrant status is a risk factor for low school engagement3. Fortunate for those who search for a silver lining, there are things that help. One of those things is access to resources3. These resources can be interpersonal, like a nurturing relationship with a teacher or counselor, or access to a good bilingual English-learning program. They can also be institutional suggestions, such as resourcesprovided by the National Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.

So, if you’re asking if immigrant children are at risk: the answer is ‘yes, but…’.

Immigrant youth face many more challenges. But, there is also room for remarkable resilience and intervention by those who care. So, when wondering about immigrant neighborhoods, family separation, and education, know that immigrant youth have the potential to secure and achieve promising futures – if we make sure to provide the appropriate resources.

 

  1. Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying behind: Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26(2), 222–257. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558410376830
  2. Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50(6), 1771–1787. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036424
  3. Motti-Stefanidi, F., & Masten, A. S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18(2), 126–135.

The Challenges of Coming to America

During the process of migration, children and families experience a variety of challenges adapting to a new culture. This separation, if not successful, can have lasting effects throughout a child’s lifetime. Therefore, it is important to increase an understanding of how this adjustment occurs and what factors can either assist in the transition or pose a barrier to its success1. Neighborhoods and schools play a major role in a child’s development and the successful adaptation to a new culture1,2.A child’s first formal introduction to a new culture may occur in the school environment. In this environment, a child not only has the opportunity to achieve good grades but also maintain a high level of involvement, a positive emotional response to school, and possess a desire to learn. Eventual success in these areas can be affected by the child’s English language skills, as well as their attitudes towards education and a commitment to achieve2.

Studies have identified that immigrant children can experience what is called the immigrant paradox which is when a child, after the first generation, experiences a reduction in academic success which is thought to be related to a change in their attitude towards education2. Regardless of this phenomenon, children from grades seven through eleven experience a reduction in engagement with school, whether immigrants or not. This is believed to be related to the developmental stage of adolescence. Therefore, efforts at this age should be implemented to foster a positive relationship with teachers as well as engage students in activities which promote increased interest and active involvement2.

Furthermore, a child’s neighborhood in addition to their school and family can also impact their adjustment to a new culture1. A child’s relationship with their neighborhood, school peers, and family occurs in a bidirectional fashion so that one affects the other. This can be a positive effect by fostering identity and a sense of belonging but can also result in a negative outcome if the neighborhood has a high immigrant population1. In an immigrant community, a child may have insufficient exposure to English speaking individuals, leaving them at a disadvantage of not knowing the language or how to navigate a new environment. This can result in a decrease in their academic performance and school engagement1,2.

Lastly, another major challenge in the process of adjusting to a new culture is the potential separation from a parent as a result of migration and even deportation4. Circumstances surrounding the separation can result in a lengthy absence of a parent. This results in stress on the family related to the need to shift roles, expectations, and responsibilities as they struggle to meet expectations4. These children can experience devastating psychological effects such as depression, anxiety, and emotional trauma3. Long term consequences of the separation can also result in behavioral problems, rejection of the parent’s authority, and even delinquent behavior3,4.

Although migration to a new country can be initiated to provide positive opportunities and economic gain, the process of adapting to a new culture and reuniting the family may take years to accomplish4. Therefore, it is critical that we gain an increased understanding of this complicated process in order to develop strategies and interventions to promote a successful transition.

References

  1. Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50(6), 1771–1787. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036424
  2. Motti-Stefanidi, F., & Masten, A. S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18(2), 126–135. https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000139
  3. Rojas-Flores, L., Clements, M. L., Hwang Koo, J., & London, J. (2017). Trauma and psychological distress in Latino citizen children following parental detention and deportation.Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9(3), 352-361. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000177
  4. Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying behind: Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26(2), 222–257. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558410376830

Community Contexts: The Role of Neighborhoods and Schools in Immigrant Youth Development

For most children, regardless of immigrant status, their neighborhood and their school are the places in which they spend the most time. However, the experiences and circumstances surrounding these contexts differ greatly for U.S. born children versus immigrant children. For example, non-immigrant children are more likely than immigrant children to attend preschool1. Additionally, non-immigrant children in the U.S. enter school already speaking English and are taught neighborhood values and beliefs from birth. However, many immigrant children must attend school while in the process of learning English and may take time to learn the community values and customs2. It is important to understand how immigrant children’s varied experiences impact their development, specifically in regards to circumstances in schools and neighborhoods.

 

 

In addition to lower rates of preschool enrollment, neighborhoods with high numbers of immigrants have decreased access to quality childcare options1. But, even with these barriers to young childcare and education, neighborhoods with high numbers of immigrants also possess qualities valuable to immigrant children. For example, social cohesion, or the trust and strong bonds that exist between neighbors, can be higher in neighborhoods with higher numbers of immigrants. This social cohesion can help mitigate the level of acculturative stress experienced by the neighborhood immigrant children1. Lower levels of acculturative stress can help children have smoother acculturative transitions and successes in school—for example, by being able to acquire the level of English proficiency needed to do well academically2.

 

However, it is important to acknowledge that not all immigrant children will experience this social cohesion. Additionally, not all social networks and bonds will have favorable effects on immigrant children’s academic achievements. When an immigrant child’s network consists of people who have limited levels of education, who do not speak English, or who do not know how the U.S. education system works, their academic success and development may suffer1. It is also important to acknowledge that immigrant status alone can act as a risk factor for instability in academic achievement2.

 

With all of these factors in mind, and the fact that immigrant children are the fastest growing population in the United States1, communities need to improve and increase support systems that focus on helping immigrant children succeed academically and developmentally. Many schools across the U.S. could take a page out of Utah’s book on how to better assist their immigrant students in these ways. The Granite school district in Salt Lake City hosts a two-week transition program, where newly arrived immigrant students learn important acculturative tasks such as how to behave during a fire drill, how to navigate the bus, and how to open their lockers3. The Granite school system also implemented classes for parents of immigrant children to help strengthen the children’s networks and academic support systems. These parent classes consist of English education, information about how the school system operates, what to anticipate during parent/teacher conferences, and interpreters should the parents need language assistance3.

 

There is no one easy solution to help immigrant children across the U.S. succeed in school in the face of acculturative stressors and neighborhood disadvantages. However, when school systems like Granite pay attention to the research on what immigrant families need in their schools and neighborhoods, more opportunities will arise for children and parents alike to achieve the success they are capable of and deserve.

 

References

 

  1. Leventhal, T. & Shuey, E.A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50, 1771-1787. doi: 10.1037/a0036424
  2. Motti-Stefanidi, F. & Masten, A.S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18, 126-135.
  3. Wicks, Annie. (2018, January 31). Lessons from public schools succeeding in helping immigrant students become Americans. Retrieved from https://www.the74million.org/article/lessons-from-public-schools-succeeding-in-helping-immigrant-students-become-americans/

A Difficult Decision Detained Parents Soon May Have to Face

With the latest migrant caravan making its way through Central America, the future of policies regarding unauthorized immigrants have been at the forefront of national headlines. It is estimated that around 7,000 people have managed to cross the border from Guatemala into Mexico illegally. While some may choose to stay in Mexico and seek a form of asylum, many migrants plan to continue their journey all the way to the United States. Several ideas proposed by the Trump administration to respond to immigrants who cross the border into the United States illegally have come to light. One of the most profound plans that has been brought up regards the option of “voluntary family separations”. In other words, parents who are detained at the border with their children will be given the choice to stay detained as a family or to give their children to the foster system while they remain detained.

When potential policies arise that could have such a massive influence on thousands of families, it is important that we understand what effects the policy could have through the lens of developmental psychology. As many immigrant parents are coming to the United States in search of a better opportunity, they may opt to put their children in the foster care system. However, it is important that we note what effects this could have on their children.

Immigrants in the current caravan and others who cross the border into the United States are classified as voluntary immigrants (1). That is, they are coming to the United States in search of a better life which often corresponds with economic and job opportunities. Because they are voluntary immigrants it is important to take into account that they have chosen to come to the United States because they see the benefits. Therefore, if they are presented with the choice of staying detained as a family or sending their children to foster care it is likely to be a very challenging decision.

The immigrant paradox is a phenomenon that immigrants have positive health and developmental outcomes despite the fact that many find themselves in difficult situations. It is thought that one of the factors that contribute to the success of immigrant children is family(2). Therefore, if children are separated from their parents, they may lose the positive effect of the immigrant paradox due to the instability of the foster system. This is important because as a society, we want these children to grow up in the most positive way possible. The effects of the immigrant paradox can greatly improve society.

However, there are also negative developmental implications if families choose to stay together in these detentions centers. For example, families are isolated from US society making it much more difficult for their children to learn English. Research has shown that a mix of informal and academic settings are important when it comes to learning a new language (3). Therefore, in these detention centers children will lack this opportunity. While these families will likely not be able to stay in the US, the fact that they have crossed the border shows motivation to live here. It is possible that they may find a way for their children to come back to the United States or the children may come back when they are adults, making learning English very important.

Overall, if this idea turns into a law, immigrant parents who are detained with their children will have to face a very difficult decision. It is important that we consider what effects this proposal may have on the children developmentally for both the individual well-being of the child and the future of the United States.

  1. Schwartz, S. J., Unger, J. B., Zamboanga, B. L., & Szapocznik, J. (2010). Rethinking the concept of acculturation: Implications for theory and research. American Psychologist, 65, 237-251.
  2. Marks, A. K., Ejesi, K., & García Coll, C. (2014). Understanding the U.S. immigrant paradox in childhood and adolescence. Child Development Perspectives, 8(2), 59–64
  3. Suárez-Orozco, C., Suárez-Orozco, M. M., & Todorova, I. (2008). Learning a new land: Immigrant students in American society. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Acculturation a double-edged sword; The consequences of Acculturation on Immigrants’ Development

When immigrants make the decision to migrate to the United States it is usually with the hope of achieving a better life for themselves and their families (1). Early psychological theories proposed that as immigrants assimilate to an American lifestyle by acquiring English skills and getting an American Education, they are guaranteed a better life (2). Usually, adapting to a new country involves changes that are related to interacting with different cultures, this process is referred to as acculturation (2). However, surprising research has shown that the longer immigrants stay in the United States the more they are likely to be faced with a plethora of challenges that negatively impact their development (3). Researchers have coined this interesting phenomenon as the immigrant paradox, whereby newcomer immigrants tend to have better health and perform better in school compared to later generation immigrants (3). Thus, acculturation can be viewed as a double-edged sword, since it has both favorable and unfavorable consequences.

Before exploring the unique nature of the consequences of acculturation, it is important to understand the advantage of language acquisition, since mastering English can be an agent for successful acculturation (4). Immigrants tend to view acquiring English skills as essential for their prosperity in the US (4). Some have even gone further to argue that learning English is not only important for survival it also allows immigrants to advance economically. When immigrants speak English fluently there are able to explore career opportunities that are not limited to minimum wage jobs (5). Additionally, being able to fluently speak and understand English has been associated with immigrants being more involved in their children’s education and understanding complicated US systems such as healthcare (5). Lastly, for unauthorized immigrants speaking English can help them be knowledgeable about opportunities that can help resolve their unauthorized status and foster more civic engagement (6). Therefore, acquiring English as a second language helps immigrants acculturate and improve their lives.

However, even though mastery of English affords immigrants opportunities that improve their lives, we still see patterns of poor health and educational outcomes among later generation immigrants as compared to new immigrants (3). Additionally, immigrants also tend to have better health and educational outcomes than white native-born Americans (7). For example, according to a report by the CDC, Hispanics have a higher life expectancy than whites. The report also indicates that during the first years of immigration Hispanics have lower rates of smoking and a better diet. They attribute this to the fact that Hispanics have stronger family ties that foster better health behaviors. In terms of educational outcomes, first generation immigrants tend to outperform their later generation counterparts in school and native-born Americans (8). One reason that has been highlighted for this paradox is parents transferring their motivations, expectations, and values about school to their children (9). However, research is still needed to fully understand this occurrence.

To better understand the impact of acculturation on immigrants we need to acknowledge both the positive and negative outcomes that result from intercultural contact. Adopting this holistic framework allows us to tackle some of the challenges immigrants face when they immigrate to the United States.

References
1. Wing, N. (2018, June 20). Immigrants Describe The Horrors That Made Them Flee Latin America For The U.S. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/latin-america-migrants-gangs-violence_us_5b295213e4b0a4dc99219f06
2. Schwartz, S. J., Unger, J. B., Zamboanga, B. L., & Szapocznik, J. (2010). Rethinking the concept of acculturation: Implications for theory and research. American Psychologist, 65(4), 237–251. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019330
3. Marks, A. K., Ejesi, K., & García Coll, C. (2014). Understanding the U.S. immigrant paradox in childhood and adolescence. Child Development Perspectives, 8(2), 59–64. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12071
4. Marks, A. K., Ejesi, K., & García Coll, C. (2014). Understanding the U.S. immigrant paradox in childhood and adolescence. Child Development Perspectives, 8(2), 59–64. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12071
5. Denver Post. (2016, April 30). Learning English can help immigrants survive. Retrieved from https://www.denverpost.com/2013/03/08/learning-english-can-help-immigrants-survive/
6. Suárez-Orozco, C., Yoshikawa, H., Teranishi, R. T., & Suárez-Orozco, M. M. (2011). Growing up in the shadows: The developmental implications of unauthorized status. Harvard Educational Review, 81(3), 438–472.
7. Gispert, J. G. (2015, May 29). Hispanic paradox: Why immigrants have a high life expectancy. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-32910129
8. Greenman, E. (2013). Educational attitudes, school peer context, and the “immigrant paradox” in education. Social Science Research, 42(3), 698–714. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.12.014
9. Study: First generation immigrant children do better in school than US-born kids. (2012, September 12). Retrieved from http://nbclatino.com/2012/09/11/study-first-generation-immigrant-children-do-better-in-school-than-us-born-kids/

« Older posts