We explored the associations between early-life adversity and migration-related stress on the mental health of Central American and Mexican migrating children held in United States immigration detention facilities. Migrating children have high rates of trauma exposure prior to and during migration. Early-life adversity increases risk for developing mental health disorders. Forced separation of migrating children from their parents at the United States–Mexico border potentially exacerbates this risk. We sought to determine whether exposure to trauma prior to immigration and specific features of immigration detention were associated with posttraumatic stress symptomatology. We interviewed parents of 84 migrating children (ages 1–17) after families were released from immigration detention facilities to assess children's migration- and detention-related experiences. A modified version of the University of California Los Angeles Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Reaction Index was administered to assess children's PTSD symptoms and document trauma exposure. A total of 97.4% of children experienced at least one premigration traumatic event. PTSD symptom severity was most strongly predicted by premigration trauma and duration of parent–child separation. This study contributes to a growing empirical literature documenting that early-life adversity increases risk of developing mental health disorders, particularly following additional stress exposure, and that remaining with parents during immigration detention may help mitigate children's stress response.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Developmental Biology
- Behavioral Neuroscience