Study: How Latino Youth Cope With Stress, Parental Separation


Latino farm boy in poverty and food insecurity
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We know that children of migrant workers, who are predominantly Latino, grow up exposed to a high level of trauma, such as neglect, abuse, poverty, and low access to healthy food and safe places to play.

Separation between parents and children also is “incredibly harmful,” according to a report.

Zoe E. Taylor, a researcher at Purdue University who is studying mental health and resiliency in the children of Latino migrant farmworkers, says parent attachment is critical to childhood well-being.

“In these populations, teens are used to contributing to the family and the value of family has tremendous cultural significance,” Taylor said, in a press release. “These teens may have additional burdens, making this an even more stressful situation. And at the same time, they are often a source of resilience for their younger siblings.”

Latinos Kids and the Migration Experience

Latino youth are far more likely than their peers to have mental health issues for a variety of issues including immigration, according to a Salud America! Research Review. Childhood trauma can affect Latino kids’ sleep and appetites, and harm physical and cognitive growth at a critical developmental time.

The migration experience contributes to a high level of stress in Latino children:

Pre-migration: For many, the pre-migration period was defined by economic hardship and family separation; 38% of caregivers were separated from their child for up to one year, and 32% had been separated from their child for over one year. Child respondents reported having to stay with extended family during this time, noting that it was important to have strong bonds with extended family.

Migration stressors: During the migration period, Latinos endured difficult travel conditions, which was reported by most adolescent and caregiver respondents, and, for adolescents, the stress of leaving the extended family they had become close to during the pre-migration period; some adolescents also reported having to travel with strangers.

Post-migration stressors: Latinos faced changes in social status, language barrier frustration, conflicting values and attempts at acculturation, isolation, discrimination, and feelings of uncertainty about the future regarding immigration status.

“Parents’ legal vulnerability, detention and deportation are strongly associated with depression, anxiety, fears of separation, social isolation, self-stigma, aggression, withdrawal and negative academic consequences among children,” according to a report by the American Psychological Association.

Among migrant workers, a family bond is critical as they face a high level of stress and anxiety, said Taylor, the Purdue researcher.

“Family is the cornerstone of resiliency for these children,” she said.

Trauma can even cause physical problems, according to another study.

“There are also other emotional scars that manifest themselves in physical ailments that, if left untreated, can turn into serious illnesses that can last a lifetime,” according to a news release about the study, led by Ashley Marchante-Hoffman of the University of Miami.

New Research on Latino Childhood Resiliency

Taylor’s research, which is funded by the Spencer Foundation, aims to study resiliency to learn more about how Latino children succeed despite growing up in adverse circumstances that set them up for failure.

Stawberry Harvest in Central California
Seasonal farm workers pick and package strawberries in Central California

Her study focuses on the interviews of 80 children ages 6-18 from migrant farm families. A migrant worker is an individual who leave their permanent place of residence for employment in the agricultural field, such as picking corn or fruit.

The children in the study moved to Indiana for the corn harvest and relocate regularly.

The younger children participate in the federally funded summer education program for youth of migrant families, while the older children work in the fields.

Taylor hopes to expand the study to follow the families for a longer term.

“Having a supportive adult, even just one, buffers kids from the negative effects of whatever adversity they are experiencing.” Taylor said. “It’s devastating to see these young kids whose attachment relationships and source of resilience are being ripped away from them.”

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