Unaccompanied children (UC) are a uniquely vulnerable group of immigrants who have migrated to the US in increasing numbers, with 69,488 referrals to the Office of Refugee Resettlement in FY2019, compared to 49,100 referrals in FY2018. Post Release Services (PRS) are case management services to establish education, health, and legal supports. There is growing, but limited, research on the primary needs UC report after arrival to the US. This study examines three primary needs reported by UC at their time of arrival: family stabilization services, mental health services, and education services. The study addresses the following research questions: (1) What are the aggregate profiles of primary needs reported by UC at the start of PRS? (2) To what extent are country of origin, age, sex, length of PRS, and sponsor type associated with (a) family stabilization services, (b) mental health services, and (c) education services, as a primary need for PRS?
The cross-sectional study includes administrative data shared by Heartland Alliance, a national non-profit providing supports for UC in the US. The sample includes 851 UC (56.48% male) receiving PRS in the US. The majority of UC are from El Salvador (13.48%), Guatemala (45.07%), or Honduras (32.73%). Data were collected by PRS caseworkers at time of discharge from PRS. Primary PRS need is measured as three separate dichotomous variables: family stabilization (1=yes), mental health services (1=yes), and school services (1=yes). Additional data include country of origin dichotomous indicators for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, age (years), sex (1= male), length of PRS (months), and sponsor type dichotomous indicators for biological mother, biological father, and unrelated sponsor. Chi-square and independent samples t-tests are used to examine bivariate statistics. Three binomial logit regression models are used to examine to what extent country of origin, age, sex, length of PRS, and sponsor type are associated with primary PRS need.
The most common primary needs are school services (25.82%), mental health services (23.55%), and family stabilization services (18.77%), followed by legal, medical, and substance use services. Placement with the father, compared to other sponsor types, is associated with over twice the odds of family stabilization being a primary PRS need at time of admission (OR=2.52, CI=1.52-4.17, p<.001). Placement with the mother, compared to other sponsor types, is associated with 66% greater odds of mental health services being a primary PRS need at time of admission (OR=1.66, CI=1.13-2.45, p<.05). Each additional month of PRS is associated with 27% lower odds of school services being a primary PRS need (OR=0.73, CI=0.61-0.88, p<.01).
Conclusions and Implications
Results indicate UC placed with fathers encounter challenges with placement stability, whereas UC placed with mothers report individual MH needs. Longer length of PRS is associated with less need for school services. The findings can help social workers structure supports based on placement type. As policy makers consider ways to expand PRS for UC, the results indicate longer time periods of services have unique benefits, particularly for children who report school services as a primary need.