The University of Texas at Austin Latino Research Initiative

About Refugee Children Study

Studying the psychological well-being of rufugee children after release from family immigration detention

Project Summary: 

In the spring and summer of 2014, the US experienced the largest single surge of mothers with minor children migrating through Mexico to the US from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. About 68,000 mothers and children were apprehended at the US border. Despite increased immigration enforcement, families kept coming: 39,838 in FY15, 77,674 in FY16, and 75,622 in FY17. The US created family detention centers, two of them in South Texas, to hold these families and tens of thousands of mothers and children have been held for periods ranging from a few weeks to years. There is virtually no data on what toll immigration detention is taking on the children and we have little empirical knowledge of how they are faring after release. While research on refugee children from Africa and the Middle East held in detention in Australia, Britain, and Canada shows negative physical and psychological effects, we do not know what the post-detention developmental, physical, and socioemotional status is for Central American children who were held in US facilities and who now reside temporarily or permanently in the US.

As a first response to this gap in our knowledge, we seek to develop methods for studying the psychosocial wellbeing of children who were held with their mothers in detention centers for weeks and months during critical childhood development. Our overarching objective is to understand the conditions of these children after release and inform research and treatment efforts. This project has two exploratory/developmental aims: To (1) devise recruitment procedures, test instruments, and develop qualitative interviews for studying Central American children previously held in US immigration detention and now residing in local communities; and (2) examine children's detention experiences and post-release psychosocial wellbeing. We will interview 84 children in middle childhood (ages 6 to 12) who were held previously in immigration detention with their mothers for a period of at least two weeks. Mothers and children will provide post-detention information on family functioning; children's physical, psychological, and behavioral health; educational functioning; and social integration.

Project Details: 

Principal Investigators: Luis H. Zayas, PhDDeborah Parra-Medina, MPH, PhD, FAAHB
Project Title: Psychological Well-being of Rufugee Children after Release from Family Immigration Detention
Funder(s): Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Project Period: 2019-2021


  •   Map
  • Latino Research Institute

    The University of Texas at Austin
    210 W. 24th Street | Mailcode F9200
    GWB 2.102
    Austin, Texas 78712