The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Hope Among Undocumented Immigrant Youth in Family Reunification: An Exploratory Study

Saturday, January 18, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Jessica Ranweiler, MSW, Child Specialist, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Baltimore, MD
Jayshree Jani, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD
Dawnya Underwood, MSW, Director of Family Reunification, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Baltimore, MD
Background and Purpose: Unaccompanied, undocumented immigrant youth enter the U.S. everyday to escape violence, poverty, oppression, and educational or political instabilities in their home countries. Many children are also transported against their will for the purposes of smuggling and human trafficking.  Once in the U.S. and encountered by authorities, these displaced youth are referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and placed in shelter care, mostly run by non-profit organizations. Little is known about the well-being of these vulnerable youth, who often have other risk factors, including, health, mental health, and substance abuse problems, and lack of social support.  Hope has been found to be an important factor in the assessment of children’s well-being. This exploratory study sought to understand the level of hope among immigrant youth in one non-profit organization’s family reunification shelter care program.  Youth in the family reunification program are considered Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) and therefore cannot always gain legal status or the services associated with legal status.  Relevant demographic variables, and program identified risk factors, were also studied.

Methods:  In Spring 2013, The Children’s Hope Scale (CHS) was administered by program staff in English and Spanish.  The CHS measures two components of hope: agency and pathways. One-hundred and thirty-eight youth, predominantly from Central America, from 20 affiliate programs participated.  Respondents mean age was 15.51.  The relationship between hope and program-identified risk factors present in over 50% of participants, including presence of mental health needs, prolonged family separation, history of trauma, and abuse in home country, was evaluated.  Data was analyzed using SPSS 20.0.

Results:  Of a total possible score of 24, 12 for each subscale, the range was 12-24 (M=19.72).  Strong, positive correlations were found between the Total Hope and Agency (r=.848, p=.000, p<.01), Total Hope and Pathways (r=.831, p=.000, p<.01), and Agency and Pathways scores (r=.411, p=.000, p<.01).  Abuse in home country was found to be significantly related to Total Hope Score (t=2.689, p=.008, p<.01), Agency (t=2.218, p=.028, p<.05), and Pathways (t=2.266, p=.025, p<.05).  Other demographic variables and risk factors were not found to be significantly related to hope.  Qualitative feedback indicated language and cultural barriers associated with the scale. 

Conclusions and Implications: A high level of hope was found among participants.    This could indicate that once youth have reunified with family in the U.S., they feel a sense of hope, regardless of their status as UAC.  Consistent with domestic research, children that were abused in their home country had significantly lower levels of hope than children who were not abused. However other prevalent risk factors were not found to be significantly related to hope.  Future research that aims to better understand this relationship could be an important step in creating services tailored to meet the complex needs of this understudied population.  The strong correlations between the CHS and its subscales point to the validity of the scale for use with this population.  However, implications for the cultural appropriateness of the scale, and other research procedures with this understudied population will be discussed.