Lecture – Trauma-Informed Care With Refugee and Immigrant Youth

Available with English captions.

Presented by Margarita Alegria, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital – Visiting Scholars Series lecture

Between 1994 and 2017, the number of immigrant children in the United States rose to almost 20 million. Today, roughly 14% of the population in this country is foreign born. According to some estimates, refugee and immigrant children will make up one-fourth of the nation’s 100 million children by 2050.

This tremendous increase in the number of immigrant and refugee youth has produced many challenges for schools, child welfare programs, the criminal justice system, and other institutions. At the same time, these changes have revealed the serious mental health issues facing immigrant and refugee children.

Watch now to learn more about:

  • Trauma-related behavioral health issues in immigrant and refugee children
  • Effects of trauma on immigrant and refugee children
  • How providers can use trauma-informed approaches to support children

In this lecture, Alegria describes the issues immigrants and refugees face as they arrive in the U.S. and seek to integrate into a new country. Recent immigrants, she says, confront structural barriers to integration. They also must deal with a series of linguistic, cultural, and psychological obstacles that may negatively impact their behavioral health.

Based on these issues, Alegria states that immigrant youth are at an increased risk for adverse mental health. She also examines relevant research on migration and trauma, and she proposes potential strategies to counteract these forces to improve behavioral health outcomes for this vulnerable population.

To help young immigrants address their mental health concerns, Alegria calls on providers, educators, and others who work with this population to adopt trauma-informed approaches regarding safety, stability, support, and social connection. Central to these practices is the establishment of routines, rules, and expectations. A trauma-informed approach, she explains, also involves clear limits for inappropriate behaviors, modeling emotional regulation, and supporting positive behaviors.

In addition, Alegria stresses the importance of adult support and the modeling of respectful communication and coping skills.

Social connections are also crucial, she says. Immigrant and refugee children need opportunities to socialize with their peers, connect with a larger community, maintain links to home and school, and feel their privacy is respected.