The crisis involving nearly 60,000 unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border over the last nine months has dominated the news in recent weeks. Many of these children face fear and danger and as a result experience trauma before emigrating, during the journey itself, during their time in the U.S., and when, and if, they return to their home countries. As policymakers determine how best to address the crisis in the short term, it’s important to consider what research tells us about the effects of toxic stress on children and their long-term development.
What do we know about the kinds of stress the unaccompanied minors may experience?
We know what research says about the long-term risks of living in poverty and violence. We also know, however, that kids and adults can be resilient under adversity, and can develop resilience throughout their life, with policy, community, and family support that strives to provide a healthy environment for growth and flourishing. This crisis presents unique and complex problems, including immigration and humanitarian policy questions; the context of severe poverty and violence in sending regions; the conditions and treatment of children in detention centers; and the safety of repatriated children. As national and state leaders and the public work through these difficult questions, it will be important to keep this knowledge of child development front and center. Ultimately, we’re talking about the well-being of children, regardless of where they may come from.
Marta Alvira-Hammond, Summer Research Fellow National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families
Note: To help programs and policies better serve Hispanic children and families, Child Trends and Abt Associates launched The National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families (Center). The Center was established in 2013 by a five-year cooperative agreement from the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.