Young Scholars Program

Resilience and Risk at the Intersection of Immigration and Child Well-Being: Research Insights From the Young Scholars Program

For more than a decade, the Foundation for Child Development, through the Young Scholars Program (YSP), funded studies about the early education, health, and well-being of children from low-income, immigrant families. Through YSP, the Foundation aimed to fill a gap in policy and practice-relevant research on young immigrant children. It invested in early-career researchers who investigated the education and health needs of this population. These YSP scholars developed a knowledge base that provides an understanding of the changing faces of America’s diverse early childhood populace and their families, and provide valuable information on the effects of parental immigration status on the well-being of young children growing up in immigrant families.

In light of the current political context, the Foundation aims to raise awareness of the existing YSP research and the implications it has for policy and practice. Two timely reports, commissioned by the Foundation, provide a systematic review of YSP research and situate findings related to the well-being of children of low-income, immigrants into today’s socioeconomic and sociopolitical climate. YSP research can help equip decision makers with knowledge about both protective and risk factors that influence the developmental outcomes for young children within immigrant families. It also highlights contextual conditions that may contribute to greater resilience among children of immigrants and present recommendations for action at the public policy, family, school, and neighborhood levels. Both reports are authored by former YSP scholar Dr. Lisseth Rojas Flores.

Click here to read Resilience and Risk at the Intersection of Immigration and Child Well-Being: Research Insights From the Young Scholars Program.

Latino U.S.-Citizen Children of Immigrants: A Generation at High Risk

Latino U.S.-Citizen Children of Immigrants: A Generation at High Risk examines the consequences of immigration enforcement policies and practices on U.S. Latino citizen children living in mixed-status families, which include family members with authorized and unauthorized immigration status. A risk and resilience framework pinpoints key protective factors that guard against adverse social environments and provides key information about various risk factors that increase children’s vulnerability. YSP studies support that having a parent with legal status protects children from an array of academic, emotional, and psychological risk factors than peers whose parents are unauthorized. U.S. Latino citizen children also benefit from additional protective factors including access to early care and education and public safety-net programs that enhance their academic performance and health outcomes. However, the research shows that heightened immigration enforcement policies and practices contribute to the adversity experienced by children of low-income, immigrant families. Regardless of parental immigration status, the threat of immigration enforcement is associated with an immediate and long-term negative impact on citizen children’s well-being and ethnic identity when dealing with discrimination, stigma, and social exclusion. Furthermore, children who have experienced family separation resulting from the arrest, detention, and/or deportation of a parent have elevated emotional distress, anxiety, and trauma symptoms, which potentially undermines their health and development. Recommendations are offered to improve local, state and federal policies to promote the well-being and development of U.S. Latino citizen children and guard against such harmful risk factors.

Determinants of Health and Well-Being for Children of Immigrants: Moving From Evidence to Action 

Determinants of Health and Well-Being for Children of Immigrants: Moving From Evidence to Action illuminates how social, economic, and sociopolitical conditions directly influence the early learning, health, and developmental outcomes of children of low-income, immigrant families within a social determinants of public health framework. Various YSP research studies show how political, socioeconomic and cultural contexts directly shape the environments where children grow, play, and learn, in turn affecting their psychological well-being, physical health, and educational attainment. Anti-immigrant discrimination, heightened immigration enforcement, poverty, lack of access to safety net programs, and housing insecurity are all determinants of health that can have negative long-term effects on child development, potentially compromising child life outcomes. Prolonged parent-child separation can also produce mental health challenges and hinder academic achievement into adulthood, becoming a costly burden to the national health care system. YSP scholars also discuss how policies like the revised public charge rule exacerbate childhood vulnerabilities caused by hostile environments. Recommendations based on research are suggested to promote the overall well-being and academic achievement of children of immigrants with beneficial approaches to address the needs of all children and inform public policy.

Steps to promote the best interests of children of immigrants.

Federal, state, and local policymakers are encouraged to examine the cumulative risk and protective factors that affect the well-being of young children within immigrant families and better manage systems that promote children’s ability to thrive. Policymakers, communities, and institutions must pay special attention to strengthening policies promoting protective factors and at the same time reducing risk factors that impact the development of children within low-income, immigrant families. Recommended strategies include:

  • Reform immigration enforcement policies and practices.
    • Reduce unnecessary detainment and associated prolonged parent-child separation.
    • Revise deportation legislation and practices in favor of maintaining family units.
    • Revise enforcement apprehension/arrest procedures to reduce exposure to children.
    • Revise federal legislation to provide permanent legal status and/or a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized parents.
  • Intervene using the social determinants of health to improve life outcomes.
    • Move toward inclusive policies for better child outcomes. Address disparities in accessibility, enrollment, and utilization of means-tested social services.
    • Promote universal public safety net policies that improve healthcare, housing access, and nutritional programs for all children.
    • Protect the health of children of immigrants by reducing disparities in state and local health care policies.
  • Create and empower supportive communities around children of immigrants.
    • Support immigrant parents and reduce stress in mixed-status families.
    • Support and train early care providers, teachers, and schools on implementing inclusionary school strategies and policies to support children of immigrant families, including the implementation of trauma-informed intervention and prevention programs.
    • Invest in neighborhoods and immigrant communities to improve social determinants of child health.

About the authors.

Lisseth Rojas-Flores, Ph.D. is a former Young Scholar from 2012-2015. Dr. Rojas-Flores is an associate professor in Clinical Psychology at the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, CA. Jennifer Medina Vaughn, M.S., is a doctoral candidate in Psychological Science at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology.

Full report.

Please click here to read the full report.