Methods: Grounded in a theoretical framework that combines family systems theory and ambiguous loss theory, this phenomenological study employed in-depth, semi-structured interviews with Latino youth (n=8) who had recently experienced a forced separation from a parent due to deportation and their mothers (n=8). The data also consists of in-depth semi-structured interviews with key informants, including school personnel and social service providers (n=11). Several recruitment methods were utilized including recruitment through key informants and flyers sent home with students. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded thematically using ATLAS.ti software and guided by an inductive approach to qualitative analysis.
Findings: The analysis revealed four main findings: 1) Following the deportation of a parent, youth experienced symptoms of trauma; 2) Families had to adjust to new family circumstances due to economic loss and increased family tension; 3) Families who experienced the deportation of a parent retreated from social life, drastically shrinking their social networks; and 4) Families relied heavily on informal support networks and faith-based agencies rather than government social services due to a fear of further family separation. Findings further demonstrated that youth accessed school-based and peer support, while mothers generally coped by reaching out to extended family, accessing aid through informal support networks, and by drawing upon their faith as a coping tool.
Conclusion and Implications: This study highlights the experiences that Latino youth and their families undergo due to the loss of a parent after deportation. It further highlights the role that schools and service providers play in assisting these families both cope and adjust to new family circumstances. By understanding the psychosocial needs of these families, social service providers can better help them regain their stability. In communities with high immigrant populations, service providers and school personnel can better serve these families by receiving training that will enable them to provide services tailored to these families’ needs. Such training must be culturally-based, trauma-informed, and contextually situated (i.e. accounting for political climate). Community based agencies must work towards enhancing their relationships with immigrant-based centers and faith-based agencies so that they can serve more families and assist them restore their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.