Equity & Diversity

Study: Children With Deported, Detained Parents Face Early Educational Obstacles

By Corey Mitchell — September 21, 2015 3 min read
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Children with deported or detained immigrant parents face difficulty accessing early education, health care, and social services, a new study from the Urban Institute and Migration Policy Institute has found.

The report lays out social-emotional, health-related, and financial hardships and obstacles that children face following a parent’s detention or deportation.

Among the study’s key findings:

  • Emotional stress, financial stress, and housing instability tied to the loss of one or more parents led to declines in school performance among children;
  • United States-born children who return to the home country of their deported parents could have trouble reintegrating into U.S. society because of an incomplete education;
  • Unauthorized immigrant parents are less likely to apply for benefits because they fear contact with government officials, especially in communities where large numbers of people had been deported;
  • Health and social services were in short supply in their communities, and when services were available, they were often unaffordable or applicants faced linguistic and cultural barriers;
  • Head Start programs, public schools, and community-based organizations provide mental health services to children who experienced emotional harm from a parent’s deportation, but services for parents aren’t as abundant. That exacerbated problems for youth because unauthorized immigrant parents experience high levels of depression and social isolation, which are in turn associated with poorer cognitive, social, and emotional development in their children.

To reduce harm to children with detained or deported parents, the study authors suggest that health and human service agencies improve their knowledge of issues associated with immigration status and have more staff capable of communicating with immigrant in their heritage languages.

The report also recommends working more diligently to build trust between health and human services agencies and informal local organizations that immigrants trust.

“Small organizations implement many promising strategies to serve children with detained and deported parents,” the report authors conclude. “These organizations, however, often face limited resources and high staff turnover. Institutionalizing such strategies would provide a stronger safety net for these children and families in need.”

Researchers from the Urban Institute, Migration Policy Institute, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Texas at Austin worked on the project, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The team members visited five sites in 2013: Columbia, S.C., a neighboring suburb, and a rural area; Texas’ Rio Grande valley; Los Angeles County, Calif.; Chicago and neighboring suburbs; and Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties in Florida.

At each site, researchers met with immigrant parents to discuss their experiences about their experiences facing deportation. They also met with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, Border Patrol agents, and staff at: governmental health and social service providers; public schools and Head Start programs; and community-based organizations and advocacy groups

Detained immigrants agreed to participate in four sites but not in South Florida and the study team worked with local organizations to assemble small groups of non-detained parents in all of the sites except Los Angeles County.

The study did not explicitly address whether the children of deported or detained immigrants faced trouble accessing K-12 schools and resources. The U.S. Education and Justice departments have issued guidance warning districts to cease policies and practices that would discourage students from enrolling in school because they, or their parents, lack legal immigration status.

Revised ImmEnfandChildWellBeing Final

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.