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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.