Abstract: Role of Immigration and English Proficiency on Internalizing Behavior of Latinx Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Role of Immigration and English Proficiency on Internalizing Behavior of Latinx Youth

Sunday, January 20, 2019: 11:30 AM
Continental Parlor 8, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Kristen Kremer, PhD, Assistant Professor, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS
Nathaniel House, MSW, PhD Student, Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: Mixed theories exist as to whether the process of migrating to a new country is beneficial or harmful to one’s mental health. On one side, research proposes the existence of an immigrant paradox, wherein despite immigrants’ severe economic and social disadvantages they tend to have better health than native-born Americans. However, additional research suggests that immigrants experience heightened depression and anxiety as a result of physical stress during the migration process and psychological stress while adjusting to a new language and culture. The present study seeks to disentangle the relationship between internalizing behavior with migration and acculturation among Latinx youth.

Methods: This study uses the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), a nationally representative and longitudinal study following students in the United States from kindergarten through eighth grade, to examine the association between immigration and internalizing behavior. A sub-sample of students who self-identified with a race/ethnicity of Hispanic was utilized to understand this relationship among a more homogeneous group of immigrants. The analytic sample was comprised of 1,169 Latinx youth. Internalizing behavior consisted of youth-reported feelings of loneliness, sadness, and self-esteem when they were in eighth grade. English language proficiency was based on child’s kindergarten score on an English proficiency test. Children were categorized as being Limited English Proficient (LEP) or English Proficient. Children were considered immigrants if they or their mother were born outside of the United States. Linear regression analyses predicted internalizing behavior from immigrant status and English proficiency, controlling for demographic covariates. Supplemental analyses considered whether these variables were also related to parental concerns about child’s emotional behavior. Analyses were adjusted by weights and strata.

Results: LEP youth had significantly higher internalizing behaviors than English Proficient youth. Internalizing behavior did not vary by immigrant status. Specifically, LEP Latinx youth reported higher internalizing behavior compared to proficient English speakers (B=0.13, 95% CI=0.02-0.25). In particular, LEP Latinx youth reported more negative feelings with regards to sadness, being ashamed of making mistakes, worrying about doing well in school, and having something to be proud of. On the other hand, English proficiency status did not predict maternal concern for child’s emotional behavior, although there were differences based on immigrant status. Particularly, immigrant mothers (OR=0.50, 95% CI=0.28-0.88) had significantly reduced odds of reporting that they were concerned about their children’s emotional behavior compared to native-born mothers.

Conclusions and Implications: The present study sheds important light on the role of migration and language on mental health of Latinx youth. Although youth’s immigrant status was not significantly related to internalizing behavior, difficulties of not speaking English can significantly impair mental health, specifically related to sadness and school-related worrying. However, foreign-born Latinx mothers are less likely to identify concerns with their children’s emotional behavior, suggesting that Latinx youth more at-risk for depression and anxiety may also be less likely to receive necessary help. Further research should explore the role of school-based language supports on internalizing behavior for Latinx immigrants.