Abstract: Deciding to Stay: Salvadoran Youth in Precarious Neighborhoods and the Impact of Community-Based Programs on Their Decision to Migrate (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Deciding to Stay: Salvadoran Youth in Precarious Neighborhoods and the Impact of Community-Based Programs on Their Decision to Migrate

Friday, January 18, 2019: 9:00 AM
Golden Gate 7, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Benjamin Roth, Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina, SC
Background and Purpose

Over 147,000 unaccompanied migrant youth from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were
apprehended at the U.S./Mexico border from 2013 to 2016, a significant increase from previous
years. Declared a “crisis at the border” by the Obama Administration, the U.S. responded by
attempting to address the “push” factors that lead children to leave home, including violence and
poverty. This paper explores one of these strategies in El Salvador: Youth Outreach Centers.
Youth Outreach Centers are small community-based entities that provide programs to enhance
positive youth development. Following the “crisis at the border,” the White House announced
plans in 2014 to open an 11 in Honduras and 77 in El Salvador, adding to 120 already existing
Centers. In the Administration’s assessment, the Centers were one part of a larger strategy to
deter young people from migrating. By ameliorating “push” factors at the neighborhood level,
the idea was that the Centers would also introduce reasons for young people to stay. This raises
the following questions: How effective is the Center model at promoting positive youth
development outcomes, and what is the relationship between benefitting from the Centers and
youths’ intention to migrate?


This study draws on unique survey data from a sample of Youth Outreach Center participants in
El Salvador (N = 445). In 2016, we recruited youth at Centers across El Salvador to participate in
an on-line survey. The survey explored neighborhood perceptions, exposure to violence, and the
impact of participating in the Centers. Using logistic regressions, we predicted the intent to
migrate, controlling for a range of other factors. Our primary dependent variable measured the
intent to migrate. Predictor variables included neighborhood social capital, risky behavior, and
the impact of participating in the Youth Outreach Center.


42% of youth in our sample intend to migrate within the next three years, and younger
respondents (ages 13 – 16) are significantly more likely to have these intentions. We find that
risky behavior is positively associated with the intention to migrate. By contrast, there is a
negative association between the intention to migrate and strong neighborhood social capital—a
sense of connectedness within the community where they live. The degree to which individuals
benefit from program participation does not have a significant direct effect on their intentions to

Conclusions and Implications

Future policy and interventions concerning unaccompanied youth from Central America should
consider neighborhood-based approaches to violence prevention, focusing in particular on high-
risk youth in neighborhoods with weak social capital. However, we caution against a response
aimed primarily at deterring future migration. Youth in El Salvador who live in precarious
neighborhoods face significant and persistent safety concerns. Therefore, while an appropriate
US policy response should continue to address in-country push factors, the US must also fulfill
its humanitarian obligation to meet the needs of this vulnerable population when conditions at
home make it impossible to stay.