Abstract: Community Level Factors That Aid and Limit Adjustment to the US for Unaccompanied Immigrant Children (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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381P Community Level Factors That Aid and Limit Adjustment to the US for Unaccompanied Immigrant Children

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Kerri Evans, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD
Samantha Teixeira, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Robert Hasson, PhD, Assistant Professor, Providence College, Providence, RI
Thomas M. Crea, PhD, Associate Professor & Assistant Dean of Global Programs, Boston College, MA
Background: While there is research about the adjustment of immigrants the US, there is little research on the adjustment specifically for unaccompanied immigrant children(UC), an increasing and vulnerable group of young people. There is even less research for this group that looks at macro level factors. Community facilitators and barriers to adjustment are important to consider, especially in areas with different immigrant and bilingual populations. The current study uses a macro social work lens to examine the community level facilitators and barriers that UC in foster care encounter as they navigate US life.

Methods: The authors analyzed data from 22 focus groups and interviews across two communities- one in the Northeast, and one in the Midwest. A wide range of service providers (n=79) that work with UC were included in the study: foster care agency staff in multiple roles, staff at legal and medical clinics, local schools, and foster parents. A multistep process to qualitative coding included- immersing ourselves in the data, initial inductive open coding (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Rubin & Babbie, 2017), collective second cycle coding and codebook development (Maxwell, 2013; Saldaña, 2015), deductive coding (Creswell, 2013), assessment of interrater reliability at 80+% (Creswell, 2013; Miles & Huberman, 1994), and external audit with service providers (Morse, 2015).

Results: The major facilitators to community adjustment include inter-agency collaborations, welcoming communities, utilizing the community as the host locations to practice skills and engage with US-born persons, access to health and mental healthcare, and the role of the local church. For example, a foster parent said “[I] definitely feel part of a multidisciplinary team – healthcare, housing, counseling, [there is] always someone I can call” and a community partner said, “Teamwork is a big thing, daily communications with case managers and foster parents is a must.” When discussing the value of welcoming communities, participants expressed that “some are really welcoming” and that UC “don’t need support but [rather] openness... It’s necessary to have open dialogue."

The main factors limiting adjustment for UC include systemic fear, lack of language skills, a lack of formal training for service providers, and unwelcoming communities. A caseworker explained how the larger political climate can impede progress: “Raids are happening, that affects potential reunifications, and it increases fear,” and a foster parent further elaborated that the “fear plays a role in everything they do, some kids give up, they [just] can’t take it anymore.” More in-depth results and implications will be shared during the presentation.


The results of this study contribute to an emerging body of research regarding how community influences the adjustment of UC. Further research would be greatly enhanced if it were to engage UC in a community-based participatory research model, which is currently prohibited by ORR policy. Findings suggest that service providers and community members at-large would benefit from more training, but more research is needed to identify the types of training necessary to equip foster care staff and administrators, foster families, and community agencies to help UC overcome community barriers to adjustment.