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CLALS | Household Contexts & School Integration

Household Contexts and School Integration of Unaccompanied Migrant Youth

Between late 2013 and early 2016, over 100,000 unaccompanied migrant children from Central America have been resettled in communities across the United States—more than 11,000 in the Washington, DC metropolitan area alone. Under federal law, state and local jurisdictions are mandated to provide these newcomer youths with formal schooling, yet varying levels of institutional capacity, public funding, and familiarity with the challenges posed by large immigrant student populations have led to divergent school responses. In collaboration with community partners, CLALS is conducting a pilot study to explore how local school responses and youth household circumstances are impacting their school integration experiences.  

Unaccompanied children from Central America who are resettled in the U.S. reside in a diverse range of household contexts, many under the care of a long-separated or formerly unknown parent, other relative, or family friend. The complex demands associated with incorporating newly arrived children into households where mixed legal status and economic disadvantage are the norm suggest that many of these arrangements are highly unstable. While research on immigrant youth has linked household instability to poor educational achievement, at present almost no data exist describing household arrangements or school responses to the needs of unaccompanied minors, and their combined effects on these youth’s educational engagement.

The CLALS research team, led by Director Eric Hershberg and Assistant Professors Ernesto Castañeda (Sociology) and Noemí Enchautegui-de-Jesús (Psychology), is carrying out in-depth interviews with 60 unaccompanied minors aged 13-17 and their caretakers to gather data on youth’s migration and integration experiences. Researchers are also conducting interviewers with stakeholders throughout the region to evaluate school responses to the resettlement of unaccompanied children. 

The results of this study will enhance understanding of the needs of newly arrived unaccompanied children, guide educational policy and funding decisions for targeted service programs, and inform local and national strategies for improving academic engagement and achievement among this at-risk youth population.