Abstract: Child Victims of Gangs: Central American Unaccompanied Children Fleeing Gang Violence and Police Corruption (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Child Victims of Gangs: Central American Unaccompanied Children Fleeing Gang Violence and Police Corruption

Friday, January 18, 2019: 5:15 PM
Golden Gate 5, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Dawnya Underwood, MSW, Children's Services Director, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Baltimore, MD
Jessica Jones, JD, Policy Counsel, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Baltimore, MD
Emily Hornung, Children and Family Services Consultant, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Baltimore, MD
Background and Purpose

With substantial increases in unaccompanied migrant youth (UMY) arriving to the U.S. from the highly violent region of Central America, the current system of care and coordination is the first responder to identifying risks, evaluating and addressing needs, and mitigating risks through services. Youth entering UMY programming can have a history of gang involvement ranging from having witnessed gang violence, being a victim themselves of violence, to receiving recruitment threats. LIRS aimed to investigate the prevalence of gang involvement among children served nationwide and analyse trends in indicators, demographics, and experiences of these youth in order to support the provision of effective resources for UMY in the U.S.


LIRS conducted an analysis of unaccompanied children documented with the risk factor of “history of gang involvement” and “current gang involvement” for fiscal years 2014 through May 2017. Using the LIRS tracking system for all children with gang involvement, a sample size of 8,126 total cases were analysed for gang involvement indicators, meaning the child was a gang member, was associated with gang members (through friends or family members), was a victim of gangs, or has been labelled a gang member by country of origin. Of these total cases, only 0.69%, or 56 youth, had some sort of history of gang involvement reported.


Unaccompanied children with a history of gang involvement represent a small percentage of the LIRS caseload, averaging less than 1% for all home study and post-release cases, 0.7% of all cases (n=8,126), but 0% for transitional foster care services. In all 1,244 cases of post-release case management services following a home study, no child became gang-involved post-reunification, suggesting that prior history of gang involvement is not a reliable predictor of gang involvement in the U.S. Only 10 cases (0.2%) of 4,182 straight post-release case management services cases without a home study had current gang involvement indicators, all from FY14. The majority of children came from El Salvador (42%), followed by Honduras (38%), Guatemala (8%), and Mexico (4%). Membership, mere association, or affiliation based on the child’s hometown was noted in 69% of cases. A larger majority of children reported that they fled gang violence, for example, escaping the threat of harm received against them or family member(s) (30%).


In review of these cases, home studies were highly effective in ensuring children and sponsors were adequately prepared through community support, risk assessments, and intervention and integration services. Thus, home studies should become best practice for the majority of cases as they help prevent and mitigate risks, especially of prior gang history involvement. Even without home studies, straight release services were still highly effective interventions offering family support and integration, and ensuring child/sponsor compliance. Providing post-release services to all children reunified with a sponsor can offer consistent implementation of LIRS’ successful model of community-based case management, which proves successful in addressing, even preventing, indicators of gang involvement through connections with local law enforcement, schools, preventative programming and other resources.